Respecting Our Children

This blog post is an excerpt from the forthcoming book “Raising Children in the Midst of Global Crisis: A Compassionate Guidebook for Parenting in Turbulent Times” by Jo delAmor

Beyond loving connection, my parenting and teaching style boils down to paying attention with presence and deeply respecting the kids in my care. If we’re paying attention with respect and compassion, our kids will give us all the information we need about how to take care of them properly. The feedback they give us through the states of their physical, emotional and mental wellness is way more valuable than anything we could read in a book or blog. As we get to know them and bring our attentive presence to our relationship with them, we’ll know exactly what to do for them.

“Speak to your children as if they are the wisest, kindest, most beautiful and magical humans on earth, for what they believe is what they will become.”

— Brooke Hampton

Your children are amazing!

Truly. They arrived on this planet with a complete soul, a rich personality and a mission that is deeply worthy of your respect. You have a lot to learn together and they have a lot of development to do along the way, but they are not incomplete or inferior to you in any way.

They have equal worth and, if you pay close enough attention, you may see that their intelligence and capacity wildly outshine yours. They are carrying messages and memories from the other world that we adults have long since forgotten. They are growing, changing, learning and figuring things out at a rate that you will never again achieve in your adult life. They are accomplishing outrageous successes on a daily basis. They are more than worthy of your respect.

In the Thriving Life Paradigm respect is a two-way street. It is mutual, reciprocal, regenerative and unconditional.

Sadly, when I looked up the definition of the word respect, I found some very old paradigm examples. These definitions give some insight into the hurdles we’re facing as we seek to break the cycle of authoritarian parenting with its “because I said so” mentality.

From the Lexico online dictionary (“powered by Oxford”) I found these two definitions:

  1. a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.
    “the director had a lot of respect for Douglas as an actor”
  2. due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others.
    “young people’s lack of respect for their parents”

In the first definition we’re led to believe that respect has to be earned and that it is conditional upon your achievements and abilities. This puts into perspective the general lack of respect typically shown to children since they haven’t had the time or opportunity to develop or prove their abilities and accomplishments. The second definition uses an example that shines a spotlight on our general understanding of respect as a one-way thing that flows from subordinates to superiors, revealing the unconscious hierarchical bias built into us by the Power Over Paradigm.

When I found the word respect in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary it had much more of the quality we are looking to cultivate in our relationships with our children.

  1. to consider worthy of high regard
  2. to refrain from interfering with

Holding our children in high regard and refraining from interfering with their sovereign paths is a great summation of the type of respect we can practice in our parenting.

Children need us to hold them in high regard unconditionally even (and perhaps especially) when they are struggling or not behaving the way we want them to. When we hold our children in high regard, we’re more able to work with them to move through challenges instead of getting frustrated with them and disparaging them in some way if they don’t meet our expectations.

Practicing respect for our children involves following their lead energetically and letting them have their own learning experiences. When they are in process with something, try not to interrupt them if you can help it. Let them follow their discoveries through and let them do it in their own time. That can take a lot of patience for adults. Sometimes this means letting go of our attachment to getting things done fast or our desire to show off our own skills in a certain area. We have to let them struggle sometimes. We have to trust them.

Respecting our kids means listening to them and honoring their personal experiences, their challenges and their accomplishments in the context of the stage of life they are in.

Each stage of growth has its own obstacles and challenges that are very real to the children that are experiencing them. When a baby fusses, if we’re only looking through our adult perspective, we might not perceive the incredibly hard work they are doing to adjust to this Earthly plane, develop a digestive system and cut teeth, all without the ability to communicate their needs and pains.

Since you’ve matured beyond the middle school social drama it could be hard to remember how very real the pain of being teased and embarrassed in front of your friends can be. Or now that you manage a whole household and hold down a job and juggle all your adult responsibilities you might not think it’s all that impressive that your child finally cleaned their room. But when your child comes to you with their pain and their accomplishments you have to acknowledge where they are in their process.

As we make respecting our kids a conscious discipline, we can strive to practice kindness and common decency in each of our interactions. Remember, you are raising a future adult. Treat them the way you hope they will treat everyone they come in contact with throughout their lives.

If you notice them acting disrespectfully to you or their siblings, take a moment to honestly reflect on how you talk to them to see if they’ve picked up that tone from you. You may notice some unconscious habits that you can start to shift. Or you may notice that they are repeating behavior that they see on TV, with their other parent(s) or with their friends.

This is an opportunity to let them know how much you value your relationship with them and how important it is to be kind and supportive of each other. You can clearly express to them the way you want to be treated and then you can reinforce that request by actively treating them with that level of respect until the behavior shifts. 

When children do something helpful or fulfill a request you made say “Thank you!”

They are working hard in their little ways and they benefit greatly from your appreciation. Even if they tried to help but they made a mess along the way, you can thank them for their effort. I think “Thank you” is one of the most common phrases I use when caring for little ones.Thank you for listening.” “Thank you for helping.” “Thank you for cooperating.” This kind of appreciation and positive feedback helps them feel a sense of personal value and know that their efforts are worth the trouble.

“Thank you” is also a common phrase I use with my teenage daughter as I acknowledge her cooperation and the choice that she makes to care for our relationship. “Thank you for cooking tonight.” “Thank you for sharing with me so openly.” “Thank you for asking for my help.”

As I’ve mentioned before, during the course of your parenting experience you will make a lot of mistakes. You will be wrong from time to time and you’ll cause some harm. I don’t think there is any way around that. Apologize to your children when you are wrong. Admit your mistakes openly and seek to make amends.

Respecting your children in this way and modeling this emotional maturity will help them stay centered in their own worth and wellbeing and show them that we are all growing and learning all the time. It will help them carry respect and compassion for themselves and others throughout the rest of their lives. And it will deepen their respect for you and their sense of being in partnership with you.

Your child’s experience is their own. Pay attention with deep respect and love in your heart so you can support them in what they need to feel grounded, safe, loved and validated as they grow, no matter what. They may be working something out for their own karma, for your lineage, for humanity as a whole and/or simply being and expressing a unique facet of the Divine that only they can express.

It’s not your place as a parent to approve or disapprove. It’s your place to love and support.

This is an excerpt from the forthcoming book Raising Children in the Midst of Global Crisis: A Compassionate Guidebook for Parenting in Turbulent Times by Jo delAmor

Visit this page for more information about this book and to sign up to be notified when it is published and available for sale.

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Parenting As Activism

This blog post is an excerpt from the forthcoming book “Raising Children in the Midst of Global Crisis: A Compassionate Guidebook for Parenting in Turbulent Times” by Jo delAmor

In this book we engage parenting as a form of activism. Or, more correctly, what Bayo Akomolafe has termed post activism. It’s about responding to the needs of the world as they are presented in this uniquely pivotal moment by the way we think about and approach parenting. It’s a form of activism that is deeply based in inquiry and sacred reflection.

It is an activism that recognizes that when we approach activism unconsciously, distorted by the mindset that created the problem we seek to “fix” we generally wind up recreating the problem again in a different way. The “work” of this book is not to figure out how to escape the crises of our times or raise perfect kids or to save the world. It is not about ‘getting it right’ or finding the solution.  

This form of parenting is about deeply grasping the reality within which we are raising our children and responding to it authentically.

When speaking about post activism, Bayo Akomolafe says that it’s not really about thinking outside the box, but that it’s about “touching the box.” I take this to mean a process of awakening that allows us to more fully understand the circumstances in which we find ourselves. 

It’s true that we need a new way of seeing, or a new model.

But “thinking outside the box” as a way of escaping our circumstances is actually the same kind of thinking, dressed up in a different outfit.

I recognize what Bayo Akomolafe says about “touching the box” in what happened for me when I tried to leap into sustainability in my early 20s without really understanding what I was trying to leap away from.

This process caused me to become aware of the box of my own conditioning and that of my peers. It showed me how that conditioning expressed itself in our parenting and marriages, undoing the very things we cherished most. It showed me that the work we have to do is to more thoroughly understand the ways in which we were programmed and the wounds we carry so we can heal from the inside out. Slowly, deeply, thoroughly.

In this way our work here is to comprehend the dynamic, pivotal, powerful, precious, precarious, complicated, unfolding, changing reality in which we’re raising our kids so we can actively respond to it.

As we choose to align ourselves with Life and teach our children to live in that alignment we do our small, but important, part to shift the tides of consciousness.

Grounding in this deep awareness gives us the fortitude to actively break cycles of disconnection, disempowerment and abuse.

Breaking these cycles and healing the trauma that we have inherited is difficult work. It takes patience, practice, discipline and humility. There is no right way to do it and it will often not go the way you want it to. It will be exhausting and confusing at times and there will be unexpected challenges around every corner. You may not get the pats on the back or confirmation of your good work for years to come.

That’s what the creation of masterpieces is all about. 

Of all the endeavors you engage in throughout your life, there will be nothing more important for you to do than raise the little humans in your care, to the best of your ability, in a way that will allow their innate human brilliance to take sprout and grow. None of your greatest accomplishments will have more value or influence on the world than the human beings you raise. 

New Paradigm Parenting is a life’s work. It is legacy work. This kind of parenting is, in itself, a profound form of activism that has incalculable effects on the future of our world. It is the greatest gift we can give to the world in service to our lineages and future generations. 

Children raised in this way with dignity and respect, nourished by love, empowered to enact their Life-serving purpose on the planet can grow into adults who can see, feel and think beyond the Power Over Paradigm, allowing the Thriving Life Paradigm to emerge through them and contributing to a Life Sustaining Society.

This is an excerpt from the forthcoming book Raising Children in the Midst of Global Crisis: A Compassionate Guidebook for Parenting in Turbulent Times by Jo delAmor

Visit this page for more information about this book and to sign up to be notified when it is published and available for sale.

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Partnering with Your Children – Part 2

This blog post is an excerpt from the forthcoming book “Raising Children in the Midst of Global Crisis: A Compassionate Guidebook for Parenting in Turbulent Times” by Jo delAmor

As parents we are guides for our children in many ways. We’re here to orient them to the world. We know some very practical things that they’ll need to function well in their lives. We’ll teach them how to tie their shoes and take care of their bodies. We’ll teach them how to ride a bike and cook food. It’s our job to show them around the physical plane and help them develop their earthly skills.

But, if we get wrapped up in a sense of superiority to and separation from our children we’ll squander the essential opportunity we have to partner with them.

As parents in partnership it is our responsibility to be doing our own personal emotional and spiritual work so we can be grounded and present enough to care for our children, protect them, advocate for them and guide them, while meeting them as allies.

Children need us so much. Beyond all of the physical support they require, they need us to be present, fully. To be grounded and loving. To be steady. To be honest. To be unconditionally and fiercely loving. To be our full selves with them and for them. To love this life and show them how to love it too.

In order to step into a true partnership with your children you have to realize that your parenting experience is not about you.

It’s not about the fulfillment of your life goals. It’s not about your image. Your pleasure. Your entertainment. Your satisfaction or disappointment. Your expectations. It is about the tender soul that has entered into this challenging, beautiful, confusing world through you.

It’s about helping each other out as you each learn and grow.

Parenting in partnership requires a lot of humility and a lot of self-reflection.

As a parent you’ll have to make countless choices. Some of them are impossible choices. You’ll have to compromise in ways you could never imagine. You’ll have to think fast and make quick decisions. You’ll react. You’ll get triggered. You’ll make mistakes. A lot of mistakes. You’ll cause harm.

Being able and willing to reflect on all of this with self-love and humility is essential. It can be extremely challenging to do this without slipping into the pitfalls of either self-doubt or defensiveness. It’s important to remember that you don’t have to have it “all figured out” to be a good parent. Nobody does. But you do have to be honest.

Children are highly skilled detectors of bullshit and hypocrisy.

They are counting on you to be the adult in the room and to provide an example of how to learn and grow. They need to see that it’s ok to make mistakes and learn from them. They need to feel safe in your presence, like you’re willing and able to meet them where they are and learn together.

If you choose to live in some form of arrogant defense and/or shame in relation to the challenges of parenting and fail to reflect with humility the children in your life will feel this and, in a very real way, they will feel abandoned by it.

Practicing authentic humility is only really possible when we love ourselves and understand our precious (but small) place in the expansive interconnected web of existence. Authentic humility creates a certain kind of space in which we can observe ourselves with compassion and reflect on our experiences and choices so we can continue showing up in true partnership with our kids.

One way of increasing your capacity for this self-reflection is to become a student of adult/child relationships. Pay attention to the relationships and interactions between the children in your life and their parents, teachers and other adults.

To circumnavigate our tendency toward egoic defense or shame, it often helps to consider these relationships playing out from a third-party perspective. Study the dynamics. Observe how things go.

Look for examples of interactions that move toward greater connection and empowerment and those that move away.

How do these interactions play out for the child?

Do they foster healthy behavior and wellness? Or perpetuate dysfunctional patterns?

Do they stimulate creativity and passion? Or stifle it?

Do they increase the child’s sense of trust and support? Or push towards isolation?

Notice if and when kids start to ‘tune out’ the adults or withdraw energetically. Notice when they appear energized and engaged and free to express themselves.

Make connections. Notice patterns. See for yourself.

Then turn your attention to your own relationships with children and apply what you’ve learned.

It’s important to be aware that a good parent/child partnership can be established at any point in your children’s life, even if you didn’t start early and even if you feel far from partnership in your current relationship. At any point in time you can choose to consciously orient yourself toward partnership with your child and invite them to meet you there.

To establish partnership with older children requires deep authenticity and humility. The basic message that needs to come across is, “I see you. I’m here. You’re here. We’re in this together. Let’s do what we can to work it out together.”

That message should be followed by a lot of listening and a generous willingness to receive feedback from your children.

Whether you begin in early childhood or later, intentional partnership needs to be reinforced repeatedly as children grow. They learn the true meaning of partnership when they feel that you really have their backs.

They feel it when you listen to them fully and try to understand instead of reacting. It is reinforced when you show up for them, human to human, with all your goofiness and all your works-in-progress. They learn about the reciprocity of partnership when you apologize to them and thank them. They feel empowered by it when you help them clarify and execute their own plans and dreams instead of imposing yours onto them. They know that you’re in partnership with them when they reach out for help and you respond with loving willingness, even if it’s the middle of the night.

So much changes for kids as they grow from babies to young adults. In order to know that you are truly there for them and with them they need to feel your presence and support every step of the way.

This is an excerpt from the forthcoming book Raising Children in the Midst of Global Crisis: A Compassionate Guidebook for Parenting in Turbulent Times by Jo delAmor

Visit this page for more information about this book and to sign up to be notified when it is published and available for sale.

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Partnering with Your Children for a Bright Future

This blog post is an excerpt from the forthcoming book “Raising Children in the Midst of Global Crisis: A Compassionate Guidebook for Parenting in Turbulent Times” by Jo delAmor

The most powerful thing we can do for our children in these uncertain times is to join them in facing this unprecedented time on Earth with honesty, courage and a lot of love.

The world our children are currently facing is full of confusion, pain and fear. Unless we create something different together we will only experience more of the same.

So, let’s create something different…starting with the way we raise our little ones.

The connection that can be developed between parents and children who explore and learn the world together as partners is profoundly precious.

The opportunity to live our lives in deep partnership with our children is an outrageous blessing bestowed upon every parent. But it’s up to us to recognize it as such and choose to live in that way.

We are here with each other and for each other and will have to face the circumstances of our lives together. If we’re willing, we’ll see that we’re here to learn from each other in countless ways, as well.

Nourishing our connection as allies and collaborators creates an unbreakable lifelong bond and empowers us to respond to the crises we face on Earth in ways we could never do on our own.

If you could wave a magic wand and create a beautiful future from this moment forward for you and your children perhaps your experience would include:

  • Feeling confident as a parent and having peace of mind that you’re giving your kids what they need
  • Growing closer in love, respect, partnership and connection with your children as they age
  • Feeling like you and your kids are part of the solution and that you are helping restore health, sanity and beauty in our society and on the planet
  • Your kids being excited about their paths, passionate about their lives and hopeful for their futures

This is not only possible, but it is right at your fingertips.

The inspiration and guidance in this book is designed to empower you to be your children’s greatest advocate and ally as you rise, with them, to meet the unprecedented challenges and opportunities of this unique moment in history.

It’s not going to be easy and it’s not going to be perfect, but you can actually grow closer to your children as they age. Your kids can find their footing in this wild world and you can become a better, stronger, healthier person as you learn together how to care for our world. When you’re engaged in the care of our world the overwhelm eases and everything changes.

To dive deeper into New Paradigm Parenting partnership read “Partnering with Your Children: Part 2”

This is an excerpt from the forthcoming book Raising Children in the Midst of Global Crisis: A Compassionate Guidebook for Parenting in Turbulent Times by Jo delAmor

Visit this page for more information about this book and to sign up to be notified when it is published and available for sale.

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Nurturing New Paradigm Qualities in our Children

This blog post is an excerpt from the forthcoming book “Raising Children in the Midst of Global Crisis: A Compassionate Guidebook for Parenting in Turbulent Times” by Jo delAmor

“In a very real way we are writing our own future, the future of our world, on the hearts and minds of our children. Let’s think deeply, love selflessly, and act intentionally to write messages of peace and goodness and generosity of spirit on the hearts and minds of our children, our messengers, our hope for a better tomorrow.”

— L.R. Knost, Whispers Through Time

Messages to the Future

As we come to terms with the brutal intensities of the world our children have been born into and feel all the feelings that realization stirs in us, we can begin to see our place in the world with new eyes. We can begin to see that, as parents, we are planting seeds for the future in every moment of our children’s lives. We understand that the impressions that they form as young children about the world and who they are within it will inform who they are as adults. They will create the parameters of what they think is possible and how they choose to show up in the world. We see that we are writing the future, as L.R. Knost says “on the hearts and minds of our children.”

Moving beyond the Power Over Paradigm and into the cultivation of a Life Sustaining Society will require children who grow into adults with a commitment to collective wellness and mutual thriving. Creating this future in which our children can thrive, along with the rest of the Family of Life, will call for a completely different way of thinking and behaving than the dominant paradigm that we’ve been living in. It will require a deep healing of wounds and dismantling of lies. It will require raising human beings who are not driven by fear, scarcity, trauma and patterns of woundedness. It will require creating different conditions for our children and cultivating particular qualities and strengths in them that will allow them to be capable of truly caring for the Earth, each other and themselves.

The Power Over Paradigm has obscured our perception of the world. It has caused harm and trauma and polluted our minds and hearts as much as it has polluted the water, soil and air. But it has not destroyed the beauty and brilliance in our souls and in the Soul of the World. There is so much beauty still resiliently alive and waiting to be restored. The magic of Life still exists and will persist as we bring ourselves to its loving care. As we dream into the vision of this new Life Sustaining Society let’s consider the characteristics of a paradigm and the human qualities that would sustain life, justice and wellness for all so we can nurture them in our young ones.

I’m sure the list below doesn’t cover every possible quality that the new paradigm will need but as I dream into this potentiality and reflect on the children I’ve cared for these are the qualities that come to my mind and heart. When I look at this list as a whole and imagine a generation of children within whom these qualities flourish, I see a world in which all beings can thrive. I know, from direct experience, that even here in the midst of this dysfunctional society, it’s possible for us, as parents, to influence the development of these qualities in our children. We may or may not be able to knock each and every one of these out of the park, but the more of these qualities our children develop the more resiliently they will navigate their lives and the more healing they will bring to the world.

Wonder, Awe, Reverence and Gratitude

As children of a magnificent, miraculous Universe our most natural and authentic state is awe. I love that Rachel Carson wishes she could call on the fairies to preserve this inborn sense of wonder but recognizes that, in lieu of that, the companionship of an adult who is willing to experience wonder and awe alongside the growing child is what is needed. We are those adults. We are being invited to practice awe and swim in wonder as our children grow. A person in awe is connected to the Source of Life, the sources of our strength and not one easily manipulated by the power plays of the dominant paradigm.

As we explored in our Grounding in Gratitude chapter, teaching our children how to live in a practice of radical gratitude and reverence is a powerfully subversive way to detach from the Power Over Paradigm. It is also a brilliant way to deepen our connection with Life, itself. As our children experience appreciation for the ways in which their life is sustained they learn how the sustenance of Life works and can find their role in the great Web of Life more easily.

Loving Connection, Empathy and Compassion

Children are full of love when they are little. They love their parents and siblings to the moon and back. When that love is returned and children are raised in a loving environment, with encouragement for positive connection they become capable of growing that love far beyond the edges of their immediate families. “Pro-social” human beings that are comfortable with loving connection will definitely be required in order to cultivate a Life Sustaining Society.

As our children grow it is also important to foster their natural tendencies toward empathy and compassion. Most of the children I’ve worked with display an amazing ability to feel for others and a desire to help. As we heal from the damages done by the Power Over Paradigm we need a generation of people who are willing to put themselves in each other’s shoes and help each other grow into a more equitable and mutually beneficial way of living.

Respect, Consent, Equity and Justice

From a very young age (even 1 or 2 years old) children can learn that they have autonomy over their own bodies and other people have autonomy over theirs. We can teach children that each person has a right to their own choices and that, as we make our choices, we need to consider whether they cause harm to others. Teaching our children how to ask permission before touching or taking helps our kids grow into adults that respect themselves and others. This awareness of consent protects our children from predators and keeps our children from being harmful to others.

Making the dismantling of oppression and an understanding of privilege and bias a central part of your parenting will help your children break free from the Power Over Paradigm and see the world through the lens of equity and justice. As we attempt to plant the seeds of a new paradigm in the hearts and minds of our children it is essential to reframe our orientation to power and agency so we can grow a culture in which all are empowered. This work is particularly important if you and your children are part of the dominant, privileged class or sector of a society based on the genocide, enslavement and/or disenfranchisement of others (like if you are white in the USA or Australia, for example). Raising our children to understand that we have inherited an unjust system that needs to be fixed is critical to a future of equity and justice.

Reciprocity, Cooperation and Collaboration

In our Grounding in Gratitude chapter we explored reciprocity as an expression of gratitude for the Earth and towards other people. As we raise our children within this practice we can teach our children to see themselves as being part of a team. Whether the team is made up of a single parent and a single child or it’s a whole big family or it’s a classroom or a neighborhood or the Family of Life, we’re always working with others. This orientation in teamwork helps our kids learn how to bring their gifts to the team generously and graciously receive the gifts of others in the collaboration and cooperation that’s necessary for a Life Sustaining Society.

Humility, Vulnerability and Emotional Fluency

As we move beyond the Power Over Paradigm we begin to understand that true power doesn’t come from force and dominance and that putting on a tough image doesn’t get us very far. True power is a connection to the Source of Life that comes through our intuition and emotions. We can help our children maintain and strengthen their access to these inner channels by teaching them that it is okay to be vulnerable and express their feelings.

You can create a safe environment for expression in your own home by modeling humility and vulnerability and by holding a respectful, loving space for them when they express themselves. As they get older, you can also teach them skills for regulating their energy, staying tuned in to their intuition and inner guidance and expressing their emotions effectively to others. These are the skills necessary for healthy adults and the leaders we need to guide us into a functional way of living.

Curiosity, Critical Thinking, Creativity and Innovative Problem Solving

Our world is full of seemingly unsolvable problems and we basically have to create an entirely different way of living if we are going to survive the collapse of the Power Over Paradigm. We are in need of some very creative problem solving. Fortunately, our children come into the world with a natural propensity for curiosity, critical thinking and creative problem solving. If we encourage this natural gift, rather than squelch it the way conventional education does, there is no telling what remarkably innovative responses they may have to the situation in which we find ourselves.

As our children learn and grow we can stand beside them in wonder. Instead of giving them the answers and showing off what we think we know we can stimulate meaningful inquiry by guiding them through the discovery process. We can suspend our “knowledge” momentarily while they wrestle with a new thought and see what they come up with.

Courage, Confidence, Self-worth, Honor and Dignity

Our children’s lives are not going to be easy. They will encounter many obstacles and many forces that seek to diminish them and make them feel powerless. One of the central tactics of the Power Over Paradigm is to rob its subjects of their honor and dignity. Every single one of us descends from human beings who, at one time, maybe very long ago, knew that they were brilliant, beautiful, sacred members of the Family of Life. Although people like this are wonderful stewards of a Life Sustaining Society, they are not easy to control. As the forces of oppressive empires and colonization ravaged the surface of the Earth they stripped the people of their honor and dignity in every way they possibly could.

For our children to grow beyond the constraints of this dominant paradigm and create a future that feeds Life they will need their natural honor, dignity and self-worth intact. Fortunately it is another natural endowment of every little being and can be cultivated and encouraged as they grow. Teach your children that they are needed in this world. Teach them that they have a purpose and that their lives matter so they can move forward with the courage and confidence they’ll need.

Honesty, Authenticity and Self Expression

Along with self-worth and dignity comes the ability to be honestly and authentically yourself. Each and every one of us comes to Earth with our own special gifts, our own way of seeing and understanding, our own particularities that make us who we are. The world needs each and every one of us, exactly as we are. It is in this diversity of perspective and expression that we really thrive. Diversity makes every system stronger. And, when we are not hemmed in by the prejudices and boxes of an oppressive society we can be much more powerfully beautiful stewards of Life.

There are countless ways that our Power Over Paradigm enforces these boxes and tells our children that they need to hide parts of themselves and fit into one of the pre-programmed boxes that has been designed for them. From relentless genderization and fashion trends to compliance with a consumer economy and political ideologies our kids are inundated with expectations and fabricated answers to the questions of who they are. As parents, we can insulate them to some extent from these external pressures and consciously create space in our homes and families for them to blossom as the authentically individual human beings that they are.

Resilience and Adaptability

We can’t even begin to imagine how much change our children will have to navigate in their lifetimes. All we know is that things are not going to continue on as they have. The Earth simply doesn’t have the resources to keep sustaining an extractive capitalistic human society. So, one way or another, everything is going to change and our kids will have to be resilient and adaptive in order to make it through and be of any use to the world. This is why it’s so essential for us to teach our children how to deal with challenges and hardship gracefully and healthfully. Everyone knows that facing and working through real life challenges is character building, but modern parents often have a hard time staying out of the way enough to allow their children to build character in this way.

Even if we have plenty of money, we should not bend over backwards to create a fantastical childhood of constant pleasure and gratification for our children. It doesn’t serve them at all. In fact, it interferes with their growth and development terribly and creates an unnaturally insatiable appetite for ease. As part of a healthy childhood that prepares a person for the rest of their lives a child should have to learn how to wait, give others a turn, make mistakes, fall down and get hurt, experience disappointment, get bored, etc.. That doesn’t mean we should intentionally create suffering for our children. And it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t let our kids have fun. But if we insulate them too much from the normal discomforts of life and try to make everyday and every moment a magical theme park adventure then we are actually impeding their healthy development and stunting their resilience.

Joy, Humor and Playfulness

Even as our children must struggle and learn from their struggles, they have got to have some fun too! A sense of natural joy, playfulness and an ability to see the humor in any situation may be the quality that helps our kids the most. When we feel connected to the living world and see our lives as an important, but small, part of a grand unfolding this sense of joy comes easily. Humor and lightheartedness are essential to resilience. Without an appreciation for irony, mystery and playfulness we would all be brought to our knees before we even make it through the gate. Being able to laugh at ourselves, try things out and fail, notice the ironic humor of the way life unfolds helps us make it through the more difficult moments we’ll have to face. Feeling joy and carrying joy in our hearts are also essential practices for caring for and sustaining Life.

When these qualities are cultivated in young people, the natural human spirit that is so alive in them can come through even more strongly. That doesn’t mean that every freedom fighter and youth activist had perfect parenting. It also doesn’t mean that if you nourish these qualities ‘perfectly’ in your children that they’ll save the world with their activism. This is not an all or nothing scenario. This is an opportunity to understand the power, possibility and potential of young people who are informed and supported, young people who have the confidence to be courageous, who have the critical thinking skills and creativity to address some of our biggest challenges and who deeply care about our world and feel a responsibility to Life and future generations. Whether our children’s care for the world plays out on the international stage for all to see or in small, personal, less seen ways, these qualities will guide them and support them in contributing their unique gift to the world.

This is an excerpt from the forthcoming book Raising Children in the Midst of Global Crisis: A Compassionate Guidebook for Parenting in Turbulent Times by Jo delAmor

Visit this page for more information about this book and to sign up to be notified when it is published and available for sale.

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Reflections on ‘Business As Usual’…for parents

This blog post is an excerpt from the forthcoming book “Raising Children in the Midst of Global Crisis: A Compassionate Guidebook for Parenting in Turbulent Times” by Jo delAmor

Joanna Macy, wise eldress, scholar and root teacher of the Work That Reconnects, describes the situation we’re living in through the lens of a few different stories that define our current reality. Two of those stories are ‘Business As Usual’ and ‘The Great Unravelling.’ These stories operate side by side, simultaneously, on a global scale and in our personal lives.

Business As Usual is the story of the status quo within what Joanna Macy calls the Industrial Growth Society. It is ‘the way things are.’ It is the water we swim in. It is the cultural paradigm that runs our world. It is the underlying assumptions and biases we carry and aren’t even aware of. It is the indoctrination we receive from our major institutions of government, industry, media, education, etc. It is the sense that things have always been pretty much like this and they couldn’t really be otherwise. It is the sense that things will continue on in generally the same manner, with developments and innovations in technology, of course, because perpetual growth and development is one of the pillars of Business As Usual. It is the assurance that any dip in the stock market or natural disaster is just a temporary setback and everything will quickly be restored to normalcy once we get through it. It is the “follow the rules and do your best and everything will work out alright for you.” It is the just getting by and making ends meet, day by day. It is the will to wake up and try again tomorrow. It is the trying to fit in and keep up with the neighbors. It is the focus on the next quarter’s bottom line and the results of the next big political election.

The Great Unravelling is the story of collapse and crisis. It is the deadly rise in global temperatures and ensuing climate chaos. It is the extreme frequency of hundred year floods, catastrophic hurricanes and devastating wildfires. It is the millions of people in the streets of cities around the world protesting injustice and corruption. It is the millions of people in the streets because they can’t afford a roof over their heads and the millions of people that have to work two or three jobs just to barely scrape by to keep a roof over their own heads. It is the torrent of climate refugees and political asylum seekers fleeing unlivable circumstances of violence, persecution and destruction. It is the continuing regularity of mass shootings in our schools, houses of worship and public spaces. It is the very rapid increase of suicide attempts and suicidal ideation in children as young as five years old. It is all that is precious in our world falling apart. It’s the unsustainable practices of Business As Usual revealing just how unsustainable they are.

Both of these stories are very real and actively playing out in our world. We hold these two stories with tension in our hearts and daily lives.

If we’re living and raising our children within lifestyles of relative comfort it can be incredibly hard to allow the Great Unravelling to fully land in our consciousness. When there’s a roof over your head and food in the refrigerator it is difficult to acknowledge that you and your children (and the rest of the beings on the planet) are in imminent, life-threatening danger. We’re like the fabled frogs boiling in a pot on the stove. If the frogs had been thrown suddenly into boiling water they would have jumped out right away. But if they are set in lukewarm water and the temperature slowly increases to the point of boiling they’ll just hang out and let themselves get boiled to death.

Each year our collective situation becomes more dire and the Earth gets hotter, in increments that we adjust to, just like those frogs in the pot. As I write this book, here in the early months of 2020, NASA informs us that Antarctica is getting hit by a glacier-melting-heatwave that brought its temperature up to “64.9 degrees Fahrenheit — matching that day’s temperature in Los Angeles.” Likewise, NOAA reports that, “In the span of 141 years of climate records, there has never been a warmer January than last month” (Jan 2020) and “the five hottest Augusts on record have all occurred since 2014.” News of catastrophic climate change has almost become commonplace in the last twenty years. We hear it but it fails to penetrate the trance of Business As Usual in any significant way.

As I complete the writing of this book, in March of 2020, the Coronavirus is spreading across the face of the globe quite rapidly and causing the largest disruption of Business As Usual that I’ve ever experienced or witnessed. Of course, I don’t know what will happen between this moment I’m in as I write and the moment you’re in right now as you read this book. I don’t know the extent of the devastation that may occur or whether the global economy will bounce back and pick up where it left off with Business As Usual.

But, here in this moment, we’re experiencing the most massive, worldwide disruption of almost every facet of our economy and society that we have ever experienced, bringing the Great Unravelling and Business As Usual squarely into the spotlight.

We are being told to refrain from our “normal activities” from gathering in crowds to going to work and school. The whole world is on a sort of forced holiday (or some may say Holy days). In my adult life I’ve become quite accustomed to “emergency announcements,” as I’m sure you have, as well. End of the world predictions and major catastrophes seem to come and go and somehow Business As Usual keeps chugging along. It’s obsessive. Determined. Maniacal. But, so far, this virus has interrupted Business As Usual across the entire world more than anything we’ve experienced. It is showing us how radically interconnected we are and how we can choose to pull out of the Business As Usual frenzy if we have to. And it’s showing us that when we do it has a huge impact.

China’s response to the sudden outbreak has been rapid and wide scale quarantine. The resulting slow in factory production has been enough to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reveal clear skies over the cities for the first time in many people’s lives. Air travel has been suspended to many locations and new restrictions are being announced every day. The stock market is in a free fall. Schools have been canceled. Businesses have closed their doors. People are staying at home with their families.

The Vatican has cancelled all masses for at least a month, including public participation in Holy Week and Easter services. Saudi officials have banned all pilgrimages to Mecca and Iran has canceled Friday prayers in major cities. Disney’s theme parks have been closed for only the third time in their history (the other two times were just after the assasination of JFK and just after the 9-11 attacks). The St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York City has been postponed for the first time in its 258 year history. Broadway has shut down.

Until now, the individual symptoms of the Great Unravelling have either been isolated to specific regions or they have been happening just gradually enough for us to adjust to. We’ve been able to maintain a certain amount of denial about the urgency of our situation. We’ve been gradually stewing in our frog pot of Business As Usual because it’s the only thing we know and the thought of jumping out has seemed impossible. But this pandemic has shown us what it might look like to collectively shake loose of the habits of Business As Usual. Even if the changes it caused prove to be temporary, it has broken the spell of inevitability that we’ve been caught in day after day, year after year, generation after generation. We have had a glimpse of what could happen if we made different choices on a global scale. This pandemic and the countless other converging global crises we are experiencing are the consequences of Business As Usual gathering around us like the water coming to a boil in our frog pot. In the midst of it all it is difficult and painful to maintain our sense of perspective and focus, but as parents, we can’t hide from these realities.

As parents we’re bound to a commitment to the future.

Even though caring for children can feel like an extreme act of being in the present moment and is often all-consuming, as we work tirelessly to address the immediate needs of the kids in our care, parenting is necessarily connected to the future. We are, after all, raising and educating these children to become adults. Childhood is supposed to be a small portion of their overall life experience. We are nourishing and preparing them for their future. We are supporting their growth and development to move through and beyond childhood into the rest of their (hopefully long and happy) lives. We are raising human beings, not just kids.

Part of the challenge of raising children right now is that all of our basic needs are wrapped up in the planet-destroying-dominator-machine. The food, shelter and clothing we need to provide for our children comes from industries that wreak havoc on the Earth and are rooted in horrifying economic and social injustice. Most of the media, toys and education available to us perpetuate the beliefs that justify the destruction of our Earth. And our basic ability to exist and function within society depends on a level of complicity with this destructive society. It is challenging (if not impossible) for anyone to truly separate themselves from entanglement with Business As Usual, but for parents the draw and entanglement can become particularly strong. As we bring our awareness to this predicament it’s important to understand that it is not going to be an all or nothing scenario. We are not going to be able to raise our children without complicity to or influence from this society.

And, yet, we can make choices that plant the seeds of a new and different way of living in the hearts of our children.

On the global scale we can see that Business As Usual is actually causing the Great Unraveling. It is the idea that we can continue to carry on with this extractive economy and endlessly plunder the earth and despoil the water and the air and that it’s somehow ok because it’s ‘what we’ve always done.’ This circular logic identifies the quarterly bottom line as the sole indicator of success even though it’s a completely fictitious concept that relies on never accounting for the true costs of industry.

As parents who want to raise healthy children it’s important to become aware of how this same logic plays out in the microcosm of our households and our childrens’ lives.

Our own lives and the lives of our kids are reflections of the world. Many parents get drawn into the Business As Usual trap of spending all their energy and focus on giving kids what they ‘want’ and trying to help them feel ‘normal.’ But ‘normal’ is doomed and their desires are often manipulated by the same industry that is destroying the Earth and their chance at a future. If we just try to carry on with Business As Usual we are sealing the deal for the symptoms of the Great Unraveling to take root in their lives. As parents we can choose to pay attention to these patterns and interrupt them right in the midst of our own households and relationships with our children.

We have to do something different if we want different results.

This is an excerpt from the forthcoming book Raising Children in the Midst of Global Crisis: A Compassionate Guidebook for Parenting in Turbulent Times by Jo delAmor

Visit this page for more information about this book and to sign up to be notified when it is published and available for sale.

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Fielding your Children’s Emotions

This passage is an excerpt from the forthcoming book “Raising Children in the Midst of Global Crisis: A Compassionate Guidebook for Parenting in Turbulent Times” by Jo delAmor

“When your children are experiencing challenging emotions, whether they want to talk with you about them or not, your response can make all the difference in the world to them.

The first and most important work for us to do as parents is to internally recognize that our children are having their own experience, distinct from ours. This keeps us from jumping into the muck with them and getting tangled up in the dysfunctional patterns that many of our families are afflicted by. If you’ve been doing your own emotional work this will be a lot easier.

The second thing is to validate their experience. To see it as a legitimate response to their lives and a communication about something that needs to be understood and addressed. If they are open to hearing from you about it that is a really important thing to say out loud. “I see that you’re pissed off about that. It’s totally understandable,” or “I know it’s really sad and scary for you to have to face this right now.”

If you are calm and centered and are able to honestly witness their pain without trying to stop it or fix it and without encouraging them to run away from it they will have the chance to feel it and to metabolize it. Whether it’s something as small as what another kid said to them on the playground or as large as grieving the loss of one of their peers to suicide, it is essential that they feel it and that they feel supported by you in that.

The best way to teach your kids how to feel and express their feelings is by modeling with your own behavior and making room for all the feelings to exist with respect within your household and relationship. If this groundwork is laid then you’ll be able to more easily guide them gently through their experience when they encounter challenging feelings. If you haven’t laid that groundwork they’re not going to want to hear your ‘advice’ when they’re in the thick of it. Make room for the whole range of feelings in your daily life as they grow up and let them know that they are all okay.

When you feel your own feelings arise you can show them how to identify a feeling and name it, by saying out loud, “I’m feeling grumpy,” or “I’m feeling sad today.” Then you can acknowledge how that feeling may be affecting your behavior and bring yourself into accountability for the impact your behavior might be having on others. “I’m just feeling really grumpy today. I’m sorry for being short with you or not wanting to joke around. It isn’t about you, at all.” This creates room for the feeling and it interrupts the assumptions and projections that happen when we are unconsciously reacting to each other and taking things personally.

Everyone will have moments of feeling grumpy, sad, angry, giddy, excited, scared, anxious, uncertain, apathetic. These, and any other possible feelings, are all okay. Do not disparage, dismiss, ignore, belittle or make fun of your children’s feelings. They are real. They are important. They carry essential messages that can help your child find their way in the world and give you direct guidance into how to parent them more effectively.

Especially when the kids are little, their expressions may reveal that they are in need of rest or food or water or that they’re getting sick. They might signal a stage of growth or hurdle they’re overcoming. Your children’s feelings may provide vital information on something you’re doing or not doing (like paying attention) so that you can correct your course.

As they grow older and their lives become more complicated, their feelings might point to some hurt or obstacle they’ve experienced in their world beyond you. When children feel respected and safe to express emotions in your presence they can share more of their life with you and you can be the supportive partner they desperately need to navigate a world they are only beginning to grow into.

Sometimes your children won’t know why they’re feeling what they’re feeling. That’s okay too. On some level most of us (and our kids) are feeling a significant amount of subconscious empathic stress as we pick up on the suffering of the world. This causes quite a lot of unexplained angst, distress, anxiety and confusion. We can hold presence and respect even for these feelings that are beyond our direct understanding and don’t seem to be connected with anything in our personal lives. We can use the same practice of acknowledgement, validation and ‘feeling’ the feelings even when we don’t understand them.

Practice making room for all the feelings, identifying them and acknowledging them. When your children get upset try to notice and respond to the feeling instead of the behavior. If they are frustrated or angry or disappointed and acting out in some way you can say something to the effect of, “Are you frustrated?” or “I understand. That’s really disappointing.” Then you can connect with them about how to let the feeling be there, how to feel it and how to express it in a way that won’t cause harm to themselves or others.

These moments are excellent opportunities to support your children in connecting with their own inner knowing and intuition as they learn to listen to the messages that their feelings are sending and learn from them. Through this practice you and your children can learn, together, how our feelings are part of the feedback loops in the living systems which we live within. If you’re paying attention, these moments will present themselves regularly throughout your children’s lives and each time they will offer an opportunity for your child to learn more about themselves, to feel closer to you and to move through essential thresholds of maturation.

As you and your children learn together how to metabolize feelings and receive their messages you may be guided to take more initiative in your lives and to work together towards creating lives of wellness and beauty. The intelligent feedback of your emotions will teach what you need to know to thrive if you are tuned in and paying attention.” 

This is an excerpt from the forthcoming book Raising Children in the Midst of Global Crisis: A Compassionate Guidebook for Parenting in Turbulent Times by Jo delAmor

Visit this page for more information about this book and to sign up to be notified when it is published and available for sale.

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Raising Children for an Uncertain Future

“You cannot raise your children as your parents raised you, because your parents raised you for a world that no longer exists.”

 Gretchen Schmelzer

The world is changing rapidly. We are living in uncertain times.

To some extent the times have always been uncertain. Throughout the generations, parents have never known what the future will hold and what the world will be like for their children as they grow into adulthood. But, in this generation the uncertainty is amplified to an unprecedented level.

We are all aware of the speed with which technology is changing and can easily joke about how crazy it is…

Remember when phones were connected to the wall with a long spiraling cord? When you didn’t know who was calling until you answered? When you had to wait for film to develop and letters to travel through the postal system and for the next episode of your favorite TV show to be aired on your local channel?

Just by looking through the lens of technology and media, it’s easy to see the distinct differences between the lives our kids are living and our own childhoods. When you consider how quickly new technologies have been developed over recent years, it’s mind boggling to try to envision what kind of technology and skills may or may not be relevant when our kids are adults. That is, if our world continues to move in this direction.

But that’s a pretty big “if”.

Actually, that’s the biggest uncertainty. That is the uncertainty that gnaws at our nerves as we power through our day to day. The one that is silently screaming at us from beyond the veneer of this strangely comfortable life. The proverbial endangered elephant in the room that is often too painful to think about while we’re busy raising and teaching little humans.

For the first time that we know of, in the course of human history, we are raising children in a time that offers no guarantee that the basic conditions for life to exist on Earth will be in place for the duration of their ‘expected’ natural lifespan.

Let that sink in a moment. Take a deep breath and allow yourself to feel that.

We are raising children when the best science of the day calculates that we have less than 10 years (until roughly 2030) to completely revolutionize our economy, energy use and emissions in order to avoid catastrophic and irreparable climate chaos. However, many scientists and environmental experts point out that, even if we make all of these rapid, unilateral changes, the damages that the planet has already incurred in loss of biodiversity and excessive pollution are enough to destabilize the environment and create extreme climate chaos long before the children of today have a chance to grow old.

Meanwhile, the politicians and industry leaders forge on, unrelenting in their frenzy to extract every drop of fossil fuel from the ground and burn it all up to line their own pockets at the expense of our children’s future and the future of countless other species and ecosystems.

Tar Sands, Alberta, Canada

This is terrifying.

And it is weighing on our consciousness all the time, whether we are actively thinking about it or not.

It seeps in through the news, social media memes or comedy routines we may see. It enters our thoughts through political dialogue and personal conversations. We notice how the world is changing and feel the strain of increased pressure as we tend to our daily lives. We can feel it when we try to envision our children’s future. It’s in there, wearing away at our sense of security and increasing our levels of anxiety, whether we realize it or not.

And, guess what…children pick up on everything.

If we are feeling it they are responding to it. No matter how much we try to shelter them or cover up these feelings, this existential stress is still a major aspect of the lives of each and every one of today’s young people.

There are no easy answers or pre-made solutions to this challenge. We are venturing into completely uncharted waters. But I believe that being honest about the situation we are in and facing it with the courage to learn, feel, heal, process and make difficult choices that prioritize wellbeing over business as usual as often as we possibly can is the best way to love and serve our children and the future of life on our precious planet.

This is an excerpt from the forthcoming book Raising Children in the Midst of Global Crisis: A Compassionate Guidebook for Parenting in Turbulent Times by Jo delAmor

Visit this page for more information about this book and to sign up to be notified when it is published and available for sale.

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Making Time for our Bodies

The other day while I was having a conversation with a dear friend she expressed some frustration about how her new self-care routine is quite time consuming. She just came through a year-long health crisis that has left her in need of restoration and rebuilding. She recently found an adept herbalist and was given a routine that requires her to prepare and boil a number of different herbs and drink them throughout the day.

She said that she’s never had to devote so much time to maintaining her health before and she strained against the idea of keeping it up for long.

This resistance to having to spend sooooo much time taking care of ourselves is a pretty common issue.

During the years I was health coaching, almost all of my clients struggled with this issue in one way or another. Something about their bodily health brought them to me in need of healing. Each of them was suffering in some way and desperately wanted relief. But when the remedy involved spending time, attention and energy they almost all groaned as they were confronted with the simple truth that…

…there are no silver bullets or instant pills for authentic longterm holistic health.

When I recommended they drink more water, they complained about how inconvenient it was going to be to have to pee all the time. When the recommendations had to do with supplements, making time to take them and remembering every day was always a hurdle to get over. And don’t get me started on cooking whole foods from scratch, soaking beans and grains and ditching the processed foods.

It is astonishing the amount of resistance so many of us have to cooking for ourselves!!

 ** personal caveat: I should clearly note here that, even though I am often the one advocating for self-care, I also really struggle with frustration, resentment and resistance to spending time and energy on taking care of my body in some ways. Any of the advice I give to my clients and friends, or write in these articles, is for me as much as it is for them.**

When I shared some of my thoughts on this topic with my friend she asked me if I had written about this and said she wished she could gave captured what I said.

So, this article is for her and all of the rest of us (including me) who need a reminder of what an outrageous blessing and privilege it is to be a living human being on planet earth with a body that we get to take care of.

First thing, first…

Our bodies are not some separate thing that ‘we’ have to deal with.

‘We’ are not separate from our bodies. We are not disembodied personalities, thinkers, feelers or projections of ideas. We are beings. Embodied beings. Everything we experience in this life is experienced through our bodies. Every thought and every emotion is a product of our biochemistry, genetics, epigenetics, sensory perception, etc. All of that occurs through – and because of – the body.

Our bodies are exquisitely sophisticated sensory instruments

They are not mechanical vehicles meant only to serve our mental agendas. They are complex and brilliant, extremely sensitive instruments delicately tuned to the channel of the Divine life force energy that moves, communicates, expresses itself and experiences itself through them.

Our bodies are of the Earth, made from the Earth, expressions of Earth.

Many sacred traditions believe that it is an enormous blessing to be manifest into a human body on planet Earth; that there is something uniquely special about this opportunity. I feel that so deeply. The Earth is so outrageously magnificent, diverse and powerful, life giving and magical. We are made of the same substance from which She is made. We are made of earth, water, fire and air; fiber, mineral and matter; all the glorious mediums of LIFE.

Each one of our bodies is a piece of the Earth herself. Loving and caring for our sacred bodies is an important way to love and care for our Mother Earth.

Our bodies are intelligent and connected directly with nature.

Our human bodies have evolved along with the natural living world and are designed to function gracefully within its parameters. If you listen to your body, really listen, it will guide you towards wellbeing and right relation with the natural world. What foods should we be eating? When should we rest? How fast should we travel? Your body knows…it’s really smart.

“If we carry intergenerational trauma (and we do) then we also carry intergenerational wisdom. It’s in our genes and in our DNA.”

– Kazu Haga, founder and coordinator of the East Point Peace Academy

Our bodies deliver important and powerful messages

When sickness, injury or other trials of the flesh come into our lives they are often invitations for us to slow down and reconnect with our bodies. In our modern world it is all too easy to get carried away in abstract thought, running on full speed to accomplish or acquire things outside of ourselves. We can spend our whole lives running away from our bodies. But we never will get very far because, as mentioned above, we aren’t separate from them. We are, and will always be, embodied, throughout our precious lives on this planet. So, when we get carried away, our bodies will call our attention back to them…to breathe and digest and heal…to realign. 

Unfortunately, this is a lesson many of us take a long time to learn and one that our systems of western medicine and modern science do not support. I have seen far too many people in grave suffering because their bodies had been trying to get their attention for decades while their doctors kept prescribing pills to them or removing organs from them.

Our bodies are not an inconvenience

Well, maybe they are in some ways…but, if so, then I suggest we challenge our notions of and obsession with “convenience”!

Our entire modern, industrialized, patriarchal, oppressive, extractive, polluting society is driven by the intense craving for convenience that has been planted in our psyches and to which we have been conditioned for countless generations. It is insane!

For us to feel annoyed by our bodily needs or to feel that caring for them is a waste of time is a symptom of this profoundly harmful conditioning. Spending the time and energy procuring and cooking our food, developing relationships with our food and medicine plants, using our muscles and putting the work into our sustenance actually keeps us healthy and sane. In a way, it is more convenient to do the work to care for yourself as you age, because it keeps you in tune with your body and its needs along the way, thus preventing many possible inconvenient illnesses, drastically improving your quality of life and keeping you connected to yourself.

So, let’s celebrate our bodies!!

Just the way they are. With all their needs. With all the messages they have for us. And all the access they provide to the magical and magnificent Sacred Web of Life to which we all belong!

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The Shape of a Life

Early in the Speak the Spark program Leah asked us to get a long piece of paper and map out the story of our personal lives without using any words. A life story told entirely through symbols and images.

I loved this assignment!

It was the perfect excuse to create with imagery again after an agonizingly long hiatus from painting. I loved that my “homework” forced me to squeeze some time out of my busy schedule for getting artsy and conjuring meaningful images. Most of all, I loved dropping into that subtle field where images drift in through my consciousness and communicate subtleties that words can never quite fully express.

It is said that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” But truly, pictures often say what words simply can’t, no matter how many you would use.

When I was first given this assignment one image came to mind immediately. I had no idea what other images might come, if any, but I decided to sit down and just sketch out that first one to get started.

This very first one was kind of surprising to me. It came from my childhood and it was crystal clear. A crab.

It was the kind of crab that my friends and I used to catch on the shores of the Cape Cod Bay on our many long days at the beach in the summers of the 1980s. Moms would sit in the sun on beach chairs with umbrellas cocked nearby and coolers and beach towels strewn about, chatting about grown up mom stuff while we ran around and swam and caught crabs like a herd of wild beach bummin’ kiddos, sunburnt and salty, all covered in sand.

While the tide was going out and the water was receding from around the rocks of the jetty and the waving thickets of beach grass, we would pry a muscle clam off one of the rocks and pluck out a piece of that beach grass to create our lure. We’d smash open the muscle shell between two rocks and pull out the slimy, squishy clam from within. Then we’d tie the skinny end of the beach grass around the muscle. Nice and tight.

Once that was all set we’d scramble up onto the jetty, trying not to slice open our feet and legs on the barnacles, and slowly dangle the muscle down in between the rocks on the end of the piece of beach grass. One person would do this sacred task while another would stand in wait with a net and the rest of the herd would look on anxiously. If a crab sensed the muscle and grabbed onto it, the child holding the beach grass would oh-so-carefully lift up the beach grass, quickly, but not too quickly, and the kid with the net would swoop in under, capturing the crab to add to our collection.

We didn’t catch every one. It was hit or miss. But we were diligent and, much to our delight (and most probably to the crabs’ chagrin), we would inevitably fill our buckets with squirming crabs, to heat up in the sun while we played and swam.

I think we figured out this crab catching method on our own. Or maybe an older kid showed us. Either way, it was ours, and we were proud of it.

This one simple image is a key that unlocks a thousand memories in my soul. It instantly transports me from the cold raining city streets of Oregon and this 41-year-old body to the hot, sticky, sandy beaches of my youth.

Everything comes with it…

…the light on the water, buoys gently bobbing, the smell of salty air and the comfortingly familiar stench of low tide, the almost forgotten names of the kids I played with and the gritty crunch of real sand in the ‘sandwiches’ we ate together. It’s amazing. It’s all there, packed into that little colored pencil sketch of a crab.

More present than all of these specific details, however, is the felt sense of what it felt like to be me back then.

These were the days before tragedy struck my family. When I was just a kid, like all the other kids. These were the days when I had two big sisters that played with me and took care of me. When we were a family of five and I was the baby.

As I allowed myself to sink into that feeling, more images came. And more. And more. My life began to pour out onto the paper in a wordless flood of expression. Each image opened a gateway into a whole world of experience and perception, carrying countless layers of vivid memory from the various unique moments of my life. Senses, thoughts and experiences that would have otherwise remained obscured by forgetfulness rushed forth within their simple shapes and colors.  

When the drawing was complete I stepped back to take it all in and observe. I saw it all there together in its progression.

I was able to witness my life as a work of art; a sensory experience, a medley of images and color, light and darkness, shapes and movement that characterized all of those individual lived moments.

I saw how the vibrant colors of the first nearly 10 years of my story map gave way sharply to the turbulent blues and grays that represent my oldest sister’s death and the decade-long dark period that followed. And the circuitous way that life roped me back in, through despair and rebellion into adventure and discovery, bringing the color and beauty back, along with a whole lot of sacredness.

As I took it all in together I noticed that my life has its own style and flavor, indeed, its very own shape.

There is an enormous sense of relief in that for me.

It reminded me of a tender and beautiful poem that my sister sent to me a couple of years ago, which I’ll share here to have the final word…

The Cure –by Albert Huffstickler

We think we get over things.

We don’t get over things.

Or say, we get over the measles

but not a broken heart.

We need to make that distinction.

The things that become part of our experience

never become less a part of our experience.

How can I say it?

The way to “get over” a life is to die.

Short of that, you move with it,

let the pain be pain,

not in the hope that it will vanish

but in the faith that it will fit in,

find its place in the shape of things

and be then not any less pain but true to form.

Because anything natural has an inherent shape

and will flow towards it.

And a life is as natural as a leaf.

That’s what we’re looking for:

not the end of a thing but the shape of it.

Wisdom is seeing the shape of your life

without obliterating (getting over) a single

                                     instant of it.

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