My Kids Grow and So Do I


Sunday, May 26, 2013

Spiritual Tools Series, part 2: Giving Out Is Taking In

I love apply pie, don’t you? I love the taste of baked apple and cinnamon as well as the crust with its softened inside. It’s a treat hard to say no to.

With apples being the main ingredient of apple pie, who would think of baking it without apples? You can’t create an apple pie if you haven’t first stocked up on apples. Only when you have enough apples in the pantry can you bake a proper apple pie and serve it to your family and friends.

Now please bear with me as I take this one step further. Who, among all those enjoying a slice of apple pie, do you think enjoys the smell and the taste and the crunchiness of the final product most? No doubt, it’s the one having done the baking. Of all involved that person is immersed most in the process. For all appearances, after everyone has left the table, the person who baked and served the pie has given it all away. However, it is that very same person who is the prime beneficiary of everything that apple pie and the baking of it have to offer: that person, engaged in the process of baking, serving and enjoying it, is the recipient of the essence of both apples and pie. By serving it up and giving it out, that person has taken the essence in.

This principle of ‘giving out equals taking in’ isn’t only active in the kitchen. It is a principle that operates in many other aspects of life. In a previous post I related the story of my little nephew Randy who insisted on focusing on the good and lovely and was given a happy moment with a total stranger in return. Seeing the good and the lovely and experiencing it in return is a specific application, a sort of subset, of the principle ‘giving out is taking in’. It works not just with the good and lovely, but with other characteristics as well.

When my kids were very young I used to love toting whoever was the youngest on my hip during errands. I remember someone in the grocery store observing us and saying, smiling knowingly: “Happy mom, happy kid!” That statement has stayed with me throughout the years and I’ve seen it confirmed many, many times in other parents and their kids. It’s the principle ‘giving out is taking in’ in action: a happy parent gives out happy vibes; the children will pick up on that and in turn will be happy as well, which makes for happy parents. And so they come full circle.

 As a teacher in the classroom I’ve often witnessed the workings of the principle. For example, if I’m in a place of encouragement, my students pick up on that and want to give the best of themselves. Then, at some later moment, when they see that I could use some support, they’ll be more than happy to provide it. They’re actually eager to return the favor. Giving out is taking in.

Not surprisingly, the principle works the other way round as well. Children’s bath time is a good example. Often parents are in a hurry at the end of the day. I know I’ve felt hurried at that time of day: you’re either fighting the clock or looking forward to spending some quality time in a quiet living room when the kids are snug in their beds. However, if you are routinely rushed during bathing time you fail to seize the opportunity to truly spend some valuable time with a representative of the new generation. Consequently, you cannot expect your child to show you patience when you need it, such as when you’re on the phone. You may find them pulling your arm and yelling in your ear… After all, your child hasn’t been taught how to behave in a situation where they’re not in the center.

Children’s bath time is an excellent time to put the principle ‘giving out is taking in’ to work in a positive way: by role-modeling. While focusing on your child’s well-being and happiness, your relaxed presence and gentle involvement teaches them the art of allowing someone else to be in the center. You will be surprised to find one day that they will offer you this skill in return at a moment you may need it most. 

Just as the taste and smell of apple pie is yours to take in when you bake and serve it, so is your child’s courtesy yours when you’ve been able to consciously create it and send it out to them.

(Talking about courtesy and patience, there is a spiritual gift in situations when you have to wait while your personal agenda is screaming in your ear to please hurry up and get on with it. We’ll talk about that spiritual gift next week.)

Friday, May 17, 2013

Ode to Azor

Azor entered our lives unexpectedly. We weren’t looking for him. He adopted us without us really noticing what he was up to.

       Even though my husband and I had both grown up with dogs, we had postponed getting one ourselves, due to moves. Then, one summer, during an extended camping tour with the kids, our youngest must have been eight at the time, we stayed at a small rustic campground in Poland’s northern lake district. The owner of the place owned several dogs, one of which had two puppies frolicking about. Of course our boys were instantly drawn to  these two cute little bundles of fur and couldn’t get enough playing with them. The puppies ended up sleeping between the inner and outer shell of our tent at night.

       When the time had come to pack up and leave for home my husband, following a spur of the moment inspiration, asked the owner about the puppies. Apparently, she had been looking for good homes to give them to. Within seconds she came to the car that was parked at the exit, the boys in the back bracing for a long dull day on the road, and dropped the little black pup in a shoe box on their laps. This was the beginning of a life-long love-affair.

       With the arrival of Azor in our family things began to change. When the boys would come down for breakfast in the morning the first thing they did was hug Azor. They had been going through a phase of competition and one-upmanship that had been getting grimmer by the week. I had tried to turn the tide but hadn’t been entirely successful. Enter Azor and the daily morning hug, times three. Our early morning bullying  problems vanished in thin air. He became my ally in dispelling gloomy moods and gung ho attitudes in the boys. He turned out to be our little black hole, effortlessly sucking up all the negative energy in the room on any given day.
       But that wasn’t all. With Azor, all of us got regular practice in life lessons unintentionally. What better way for a young child to learn commitment and dedication than by sticking to a daily routine of walking the dog? What better way for a young child to learn patience than by teaching him to sit up and give a paw? What better way for all of us to learn that giving is receiving than by spending time with a dog and receiving its unfailing friendship in return?

       We’ll miss our little Azor, for yesterday he died of old age after 16 years of unabated companionship. My son Jesse and I buried him in the backyard earlier this afternoon. Jesse, who was ten when the shoebox was dropped onto the boys' laps that sunny morning, said he couldn’t really remember a time when Azor hadn’t been there. And so it is for me.

By the edge of a woods, at the foot of a hill,
Is a lush, green meadow where time stands still.
They romp through the grass, without even a care,
Until one day they start, and sniff at the air.
All ears prick forward, eyes dart front and back,
Then all of a sudden, one breaks from the pack….

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Spiritual Tools Series, part 1: Seeing only the good and the lovely.

My sister’s little boy must have been about 18 months at the time. A group of us were at the airport to welcome our parents after a long trip abroad. While we were kept waiting in the arrivals hall little Randy, with a bounciness and liveliness typical of toddlers, kept going up and down a row of seats where an elderly gentleman sat crouched over. All seats around him were vacant, underlining the strong sense of not wanting to connect or communicate he seemed to project.
       I observed Randy as he would bounce past the gentleman only to stop right in front of him, bending over a little in order to catch a glimpse of the man’s eye. The old man ignored the little boy completely, looking away and not acknowledging his presence. Then off Randy would go to the other end of the row and back, only to stop smack in front of the grumpy old man again, trying to lure him into his happy, bouncy world. After the fifth or sixth time the old man finally gave in: a smile appeared, giving his wrinkled, weathered face a sudden sunny expression. He stretched out his open hand, palm up, for the little boy to smack with his little fist. Both were beaming as only victorious conspirators can. After having accomplished his objective, Randy found other interests in the arrivals hall until the moment his grandparents arrived.
I was the only one who noticed this seemingly insignificant incident and it has stayed with me through the years. Why would the experience strike me as meaningful? The reason I think the episode is etched in my memory is that it is illustrative of a specific application of the universal principle most of us have heard of before: the law of attraction, or put another way: like attracts like. Now, before you start thinking that this is old news because you know all about the law of attraction, stay with me for a bit to see how this incident shed a new light on this law. Working with the law of attraction doesn’t only mean reaping the positive results of previous positive actions; the law of attraction also works on the spot. In fact, it is especially suited to be applied on the spot.  As the example shows, when you look for only the good and the lovely – you can expect to see the good and the lovely. This principle makes for an outstanding practical spiritual tool. The following example shows how it works.

At 10 am on Saturday morning Jamie gets up and goes to the kitchen to fetch himself some breakfast. Suddenly he realizes that he’s running late for soccer practice, so he grabs his sports gear and rushes out to hitch a ride with a friend, leaving everything on the counter top. After seeing him off, his mom, Lee-Ann, enters the kitchen only to be appalled at the mess she finds there: eggs, bacon and butter still on the counter, a greasy pan and spatula lying around as well as a dirty plate and tableware. How often have I asked him to clear up after himself, she thinks to herself, as she starts to clean up. But then she thinks of the tool look for only the good and the lovely and she pauses a moment. Then she puts the perishables where they belong and she stacks the dirty dishes on the side.
Later that day when Jamie comes home, Lee-Ann asks him how soccer practice went. She comments on his continued commitment to the team and on his determination to give the best of himself (a.k.a. the good and the lovely !). While she is saying these things she walks over to the kitchen, asking him if he’d like a cold drink and a snack. Jamie follows her and sits at the table to have his drink and snack. Then Lee-Ann, still listening to Jamie talking about his soccer team and commenting positively, walks over to the corner of the counter top where the dirty dishes stand waiting. She takes them to the sink and casually says: “Please help me with this,” handing him a brush. And together they clean up, while chatting about things that matter to Jamie. Then Jamie says: “I’m sorry I left the dishes on the counter, mom, but I was really in a hurry.” “That’s all right, honey, that happens sometimes. I know you mean well, and you did clean up, didn’t you?”
Will Jamie always remember to clean up after himself after a late weekend breakfast? Probably not. But his mom’s effort to look for and focus on the good and the lovely and her stubbornness to focus on that exclusively, will bring her message across far more effectively than a reprimand would.

No matter how upsetting the situation may appear, zoom in on the good and the lovely, ignoring all testimony to the contrary. It is your addressing the good and the lovely that opens the door that lets in the light and welcomes hope, turning the tables in seemingly depressing circumstances. Whether it’s your toddler-nephew, your own teenage child, or a student in your care: apply the law of attraction on the spot by looking for and addressing the good and the lovely. You’ll discover that by doing so you’ve let in fresh air and created room for all involved to give the best of themselves. When you look for only the good, you can expect to experience it, too.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Case for Practical Spirituality in Daily Life With Kids

My Kids Grow and So Do I - Spiritual Toolbox for Parents Mom and dad are meditating. With eyes closed, they are quietly and rhythmically breathing in and breathing out. They are waiting to be transported to ever further reaches of the mind. And… where are the kids? Well, they’re tearing down the house! Surely there must be a better way to live a spiritual life and raise a family at the same time!
How can the practical world of child-rearing be reconciled with the lofty realm of spirituality? How do the two fit together? You might feel that parenting is way too busy an occupation to accommodate transcendent thinking, or that spirituality, with its highbrow concepts, has nothing to offer diaper changers and spill wipers. But do not forget that you and your kids are three-dimensional beings. You are body, mind, and spirit. These three levels of your being are not isolated from each other. Together they form who you are. You express yourself on the physical, mental, and spiritual levels, as do your children.
To get clarity into parenting issues, to truly get a grip on them, you need to look at all three levels. It is not enough to only take the physical reality (consisting of people and things around you and activities you engage in) and mental reality (motivation, planning, goal setting, psychology, group dynamics, and the like) into account. The spiritual reality has to be included in your view. Spiritual reality is the world where the spark of an idea originates, where intention plays a key role, and where ideals are landmarks. But most of all, it is the realm where Love is recognized as the essence of Life.
The key to reconcile the earthly occupation of child-rearing with spirituality is in the practical application of spiritual concepts in the parent-child relationship. In the application of what you know to be true, you will find spiritual growth.

My Kids Grow And So Do I is a blog that introduces a variety of spiritual tools. They will help you apply spirituality in daily life and thus help you brave the challenges of parenthood.
Practical spirituality can be brought to bear on many issues facing families today. With practical spirituality, it is no longer necessary to separate the explorations of your inner life from the demands you face as a parent. You do not have to leave the kids to their own counsel in order to retreat into your inner space. On the contrary. When you see in parenting an opportunity to apply what you know to be true spiritually, your children’s needs will not impinge on your own. Instead, their needs will become calls to turn within and consult your inner wisdom right at the moment you need it most.
The single most important step toward expressing spirituality in practice is to become aware of the intent that forms the basis of your life. Once you know your life’s intent, here called the spiritual ideal [1], you can learn to express that ideal in thoughts and attitudes as well as in decisions and activities.
This blog deals with the practical application of spirituality in the parent-child-relationship. The posts discuss how spiritual tools, presented here, can help you deal with common situations like disagreements, fights, demands, tough choices, illness, and more. You will see how you break down nebulous spiritual concepts into practical objectives regarding the relationship between you and your child. You learn how to consciously connect who you are with what you do. When your heart’s intent becomes visible through the work of your hands, you are on your way to wholeness.
The posts will urge you to apply the tools presented. When you engage actively in applying spiritual concepts in your daily life with kids, you will bridge the gap between thought and application, between theory and practice. For in the application of what you know to be true, you will find the key to spiritual growth.

[1] The concept of spiritual ideals and the setting of ideals can be found in books about the life and work of Edgar Cayce. Edgar Cayce (1877-1945) was an American psychic who, in the course of forty years, gave over 14,000 readings to thousands of individuals in response to questions about physical ailments, mental concerns, and spiritual needs. His readings are preserved and studied by the Association for Research andEnlightenment, Inc. (A.R.E.), 215 67th St., Virginia Beach, VA 23451-2061, a membership organization.