3 CONCEPTS & 1 ACTIVITY THAT CAN INFLUENCE OUR EFFECTIVENESS IN OUR FAMILIES

ONE
The first is the most important, and that’s the concept of principles. Principles should and actually do guide everything in the universe. Principles are true to all human beings all over the world. They are unchanging, unarguable, and self-evident. They are those things that all of us know in our hearts to be true. Principles are not internal as we may think, they are actually external to…

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3 CONCEPTS & 1 ACTIVITY THAT CAN INFLUENCE OUR EFFECTIVENESS IN OUR FAMILIES

ONE
The first is the most important, and that’s the concept of principles. Principles should and actually do guide everything in the universe. Principles are true to all human beings all over the world. They are unchanging, unarguable, and self-evident. They are those things that all of us know in our hearts to be true. Principles are not internal as we may think, they are actually external to us. We can fail to live up to our principles, but the principles themselves remain, forever unchangeable.

Principles may be in harmony with our values, but they may not be the same as our values. Values change — they are what we like from time to time. But principles are true and unchanging. Gravity is a good example. You may not believe in gravity, you may not understand gravity, you may not like gravity, but if you jump off a building, you will experience gravity. There is no way you can change that. We have to go to great lengths to escape its pull, but when doing so we don’t change the principle of gravity. Principles are natural laws that involve cause and effect. They are long term. What you do today because of your principles influences you and your family and the people around you for generations to come.

Principles are true for all religions. We think that principles would be different in two very different sets of philosophical views, but they’re not. There is a basic agreement in every culture about principles such as integrity, kindness, and honesty — we all know they are essential for a healthy society.

TWO
Practices, on the other hand, change. Practices are the things we do that change with changing times. We may do something differently because of new knowledge. For example, a long time ago they gave babies opium when they cried. Now that would be considered child abuse. Obviously that is not a principle, it’s a practice. In the midst of complexity we always seek security in practices, so it is very easy to teach practices. A nurse mechanically rubbing a baby in a nursery is an example of practice without principle; the underlying principle for the practice of infant massage is the bonding between parent and baby. You may get short-term value from practices; you may get limited benefits. Principles, however, give you long-term benefits — on every level — that never end. President Thomas Jefferson’s words are worth reflecting upon:

“In matters of style, swim with the current. In matters of principle, stand like a rock.”

THREE
A paradigm is a way of seeing things; it’s the picture we have in our minds of how our universe works. It’s our best guess at how things are, our best assumptions about how things work, where people are coming from, and what is true.

Paradigms, though, may be based on inaccurate information. Let’s say I invite you to my house in Colorado, and I mistakenly give you a map with a misprint — it says, “Colorado” at the top, but it is actually a map of Illinois. You get in your car and you get lost because you do not have an accurate map. That’s what a paradigm is : it is our map of the territory. But the map is not the territory. So our paradigms are subject to updating. This is where we try to cultivate teachability or humility, the frame of mind where you think you know what is right, but you are always open to new information.

For the longest time, we thought that babies couldn’t see at all when they were born, much less see in utero, so we behaved accordingly. Then suddenly — seemingly overnight — we discovered they can see and actually they can see quite clearly. It shifted our paradigm of what the infant’s reality is — and that shift continues to happen over and over again.

As soon as we think we know all about an infant’s experience — what the world looks and feels like to them — we discovered they know and experience more than we thought. At one point we also thought babies couldn’t feel until a certain age — that they didn’t feel pain! That paradigm was very convenient for adults, but it wasn’t true.

We correct our paradigms by listening — to other people and to information that comes to us when we study, when we think deeply about what our paradigms are, and by trying to adjust them to what is current, what is real. We use our principles as a guide for doing that.

A MISSION IN LIFE

One of the most useful projects I have undertaken is to write a personal mission statement for my life. I wrote a personal mission statement several years ago, and every year on the first of January, I review my statement and make changes to bring it into alignment with what I understand to be my chief principles. I also review the past year, and evaluate what I did and how I expressed my stated mission in my everyday life. If there is an area that is being neglected, I try to understand why and figure out how I might address that aspect in the coming year.

My personal mission statement comprises my guiding principles. It is statement, in my own words, about how I wish to be in every area of my life. Throughout the year, as I plan all my activities and goals, I review this statement and ask myself, “Does this project, plan, or goal resonate with my mission in life?”

You probably already have an overall sense of purpose about being good person, serving humanity, maybe even realizing God, and so on. Breaking that general purpose down into specific behaviors can be very helpful — you will find yourself doing more thinking, less reacting. We are often pressured, cajoled, manipulated, and maneuvered into doing countless things that do not necessarily move us any closer to our goals, and that may, in fact, pull us away from our fundamental principles. Stating these principles can be the first step toward gaining the inner strength and courage to be what we really, truly want to be, deep down in our souls.

YOUR “FLIGHT PLAN”
I read Michael Crichton’s techno-thriller Airframe, and it made me think about my favorite analogy about mission statements: the flight plan. Most of the time a commercial aircraft is off course, but using feedback systems it corrects its course and reaches its destination, usually on time. In much the same way, a personal mission statement serves as a flight plan. It tells you where you want to go. It can provide a system through which you can receive feedback to keep you on purpose in spite of the many events and decisions that may cause you to veer off your original plotted route.

In thinking about this analogy, I wondered what would happen if two pilots with different flight plans tried to fly the same plane? The plane would probably get off the ground easily, but as the pilots settled in for the trip, power struggles would erupt as each tried to steer the plane according to his or her own flight plan. Unless some kind of synergy could develop, there would be a crash.

In addition to writing personal mission statement, many people find creating a mission statement with their partner is an exciting and fulfilling thing to do — especially if you have children. Questions you never thought of before will come to you as you clarify what is deeply important to you both. In most partnerships, a shared mission can be arrived at joyfully.

© 2015 Vimala McClure

PRINCIPLE THREE: EMPOWERMENT

MODELING EMPOWERMENT WITH AUTHORITY

When my daughter was in high school, she had a friend who came from a very difficult home. She had been abused early in life, and her mother took hard drugs. This girl, I’ll call her Josey, spent a lot of time at our house, and I tried to mother her as best I could. Her envy of my child’s good parents and apparently wealthy lifestyle eventually became obsessive, and when my daughter expanded her circle of friends, Josey became enraged and turned on her. At the same time, Josey began taking drugs and got into dark music that my daughter didn’t like much. Joey became obsessed with the serial killer Charles Manson. Her room became almost a shrine to him. Because of her jealousy, her entire junior year of high school became focused on torturing and ostracizing my daughter, who would come home from school in tears from being tripped, slammed, and insulted by Josey.

Josey had a loud mouth and aggressive demeanor, and no one at this small-town, rural high school could stand up to her. My daughter — already a little different because she was from somewhere else, she was small and quiet, and a vegetarian — had no chance against this girl’s onslaughts. I watched her self-esteem plummet as the year went on. We talked a lot, and I tried to  help her keep her head up, to ignore Josey, and to concentrate on her own life. But in such a fishbowl environment, it was a hard test for her.

Just before spring break, Josey trapped my daughter in the girls’ bathroom at school and beat her up. She came home with a black eye and scratches all over her body, and with a note she had found in her locker containing a disgusting poem, basically threatening her life. Naturally, the lioness in me wanted to go and beat some sense into that girl and her no-good mother to boot. I called the school officials, who had to pull Josey off my daughter, and their reply was that it was “just one of those girl fights, it happens all the time.” I told them no, it had been part of a months-long systematic harassment of my daughter and if something wasn’t done I would get the law involved.

I photocopied the nasty poem and wrote several carefully worded letters, which were not excessively angry, but clear and to the point about the fact that I would go as far as necessary, under the law, to protect my daughter. I enclosed photocopied portions of the school board policy on violence and the poem, and sent these letters to the girl’s mother, the school officials, and the county prosecutor. I made it clear to the girl’s mother that if her daughter should even touch my daughter again, I would take her to court for stalking, harassment, assault, and whatever else I could think of.

In the meantime, I contacted the county prosecutor and informed him of the situation. I got a clear understanding of what our rights were. All along I told my daughter everything. She didn’t really want me to get involved at first (at that age, it is embarrassing for parents to step in) but I told her, “I’m really sorry, I’d like to go by your wishes, but since I’m an adult I can see the bigger picture. We’ve tried ignoring it, going to school officials, and going to her family. Now the situation is dangerous, and it’s my job as your mother to sep in and set limits if no one else will. We aren’t bullies, but we Don’t let bullies get their way with us either. I need to teach you how to deal with these situations now.”

I enlisted her agreement and support. I knew that the most powerful way to act in a situation like this is with calm perseverance, knowing your rights, and following through on your warnings. Emotionally, I’d have liked to do any number of vengeful things. But we couldn’t let ourselves be ruled by emotion or we would have become just like the bullies.

The girl’s mother was mortified; she called me and begged me not to go to the authorities. I empathized, saying it must be very embarrassing for her and I couldn’t imagine as a mother she would ever approve of such behavior. I didn’t mention what I knew of her own drug use. I let her know that if the behavior did not stop, I would have no choice bu to have her daughter arrested.

Then Josey called, crying, and apologized. I calmly explained how disappointed I was in her after I had taken her into my heart and home. I recommended that she get counseling and find out if any “medication” she may be taking could be affecting her personality so badly. Then I said I was sorry, but I could not allow her in our home again. Finally, in my lowest, most powerful voice — with “sinking power” rooted in the earth — I said, “Josey, if you even so much as look at my daughter again, I will have you arrested faster than you  can take a breath. I have spoken to the county prosecutor, and he is ready. Do you understand me?”

She sniffled, “Yes…” I said, “Please try to straighten yourself out. You are a good girl with a lot of potential and a lot of life to live. But you have to do it yourself, nobody will do it for you.” My daughter never had any trouble from her again. She was able to see how adults can work through difficult situations without resorting to violence or childishness. It was a great lesson in empowerment for us all.

© 2015 Vimala McClure

PARENTING WITH PRINCIPLE THREE: EMPOWER — Part Three

Teaching and Modeling Respect

Using force, physical punishment, lectures, and tirades does not empower; it means you are stuck in the yang side of the yin/yang balance. Your children will then inherently try to balance you by either yielding too passively and losing their own power, or by resisting you to maintain their own power. The predominant style of our grandparents’ generation — “You had better . . . or else!” — is outmoded. It will not only block you from using this principle, it will disempower you, for eventually your children will laugh at you, knowing they were born with more internal power than you will probably ever have in your lifetime.

ChildAbuseImageWithHand1

This is the secret to raising children in the new millennium: understanding that these kids are coming in with more innate knowledge, greater power, more intensity, and more ability to keep pace with the speed of the new age than you have. They will be dependent on you to walk your talk — to model, not just tell them, what to do. They depend on you to be honest, for they have even better radar for hypocrisy than we did when we were young. If and when you must take a stand, you must do so with great deliberation, grounding yourself in principles (using “sinking power”), so that the result is respect for you as an elder. As your relationship becomes more healthy, interdependent )able to need others and respond to others needing you, appropriately), and respectful, the need for you to motivate and/or discipline your child decreases.

Respect goes both ways. When I teach infant massage, one of the first things I teach parents, or help them to remember, is that infants are human beings and deserve respect. We have specific techniques we use to show babies that respect; we touch them respectfully and allow them the power to communicate what they want and don’t want so they see right away that they have power and are not just playthings with which their parents (or anyone) can do whatever they wish.

Discipline conducted with respect does not distemper or overpower. The concept of obedience tied to ultimatums is not empowerment. It may get short-term results, but will end in long-term losses. Making too many choices for your children leads to a loss of empowerment, too. They become overly dependent on others — authority figures — to tell them what to do, and why and when to do it. They lose the capacity to think deeply for themselves and to go against the norm when they need to.

The Right Use of Power

In Tai Chi, power is often thought of in terms of aggression versus non-aggression. But non-aggression does not mean passivity. It means you do not constantly oppose your children, their ideas, wants, or needs. You follow them, with “listening power,” listening closely to them and mirroring back what they say from their point of view. When you do this, they learn to think more deeply. You respect their ability to come to sound conclusions and learn from their mistakes, and you communicate that respect through your words and actions.

Abandoning your children to their own devices, their peers, and the world does not help them learn the right use of power. In fact, it pushes them into learning the wrong use of power, as we can see in the headlines every day. Many parents do not understand the difference between healthy separation and abandonment. Often parents are so disempowered themselves that when faced with a rebellious or challenging child they go into what I call the “Wizard of Oz Syndrome.” They act as if they are big, all-knowing, all-powerful, scary, and so on. This works temporarily. But eventually the child gets curious and pulls back the curtain to discover the parents’ show of power is all pulleys and levers, smoke and mirrors. Respect disappears, and you’ve lost your leverage with your child. So don’t even try it. Get yourself straight first in terms of dealing with your own childhood, and continually work on your own use of power as you go along, showing the sharing with your child how you work on it, so when he or she becomes a parent, they will know what to do and will not resort to techniques that don’t work.

Your Personal Power

To help your children learn how to use their own personal power, you must be able to access yours and use it on a daily basis. Principles One and Two, relaxing and slowing down, help you begin to get in touch with the infinite power available to you, power that comes through the earth and is in the prana or vital energy all around you. As my spiritual teacher said, “The Force that guides the stars guides you, too.” That’s a powerful force.

Showing your children the right use of power is simple. Set goals for yourself and take small steps toward them every day until you reach them. Share the process with your children — it makes great dinner-table conversation. During the writing of my books, for example, I always talked about the process with my kids. I didn’t lead them to believe it was effortless. I shared how sometimes sit was really hard just to make myself write a paragraph that day , and that sometimes I knew that paragraph would end up in the trash! I emphasized persistence, and said that sometimes we have go backward in order to go forward, or re-route around an obstacle in order to achieve what we want. It wasn’t easy to remain patient and self-motivated, but it was worth it to me for the long-term satisfaction of having completed a book that might help others. Sometimes I’d read small parts to them and ask what they thought, and that would open up a whole new area of conversation.

I tried to show my kids that, even though we often didn’t have a great deal of money, it was important to be contented and try to do the things we wanted to do. Going to India to see my spiritual teacher every couple years was important to me. So I would save and borrow to do whatever was necessary to achieve that goal. I explained to my kids that those trips fed my soul, and were therefore important to my long-term feelings of connectedness to the world, to God, and service to those in need (in India, service was part of what I did). When we were in financial crisis, my kids saw me take an extra job to bring in more money so they could continue going to a school that was important to them and to me, too. It was important for my own personal power and self-respect that I provided what I knew my children needed.

Many challenging things happened to me during their childhood — I had serious illnesses and surgeries, and spent almost two years in bed due to virulent forms of diseases I contracted in India. I lost my second-hand car (that I had saved up for a year to buy) the day after I bought it, when someone without insurance borrowed it and totaled it before I had insurance. I knew how I handled these things would be an important example for my kids in the future, when unforeseen crises may come into their lives. I didn’t always do a great job of responding powerfully, but I tried. When I didn’t — when I behaved in a powerless way — I would find some way to laugh at myself, and to point out to my kids what I’d done and discuss other, better ways I could have responded.

I fought my feelings of despair, anger, and helplessness, and tried to emphasize what I was learning: that things can be replaced, starting over is a part of life, and just because you are disabled you are not unworthy of love and life. These things were not always clear and obvious to them, but I do believe from talking to them now that they got these messages. I gradually got better and began to be able to meditate and do my yoga again. Eventually, I even found the car of my dreams.

My children were able to see that there is no one way to act powerfully. Sometimes power comes from a very quiet, compassionate, seemingly “weak” looking place. For some people, it looks like a big, muscular, fighting spirit. For others, it looks like a small, serene, compassionate, redemptive heart. Mother Teresa had tremendous power.

My kids are now adults with their own children. I have been able to observe them using and teaching the use of power. It gives me great joy to see them parenting in ways that are respectful, healthy, and empowering.

To find your own sense of power it is important to learn to listen to your inner voice and to follow it, regardless of what others tell you. You may seek out the input and advice of others with more experience, but ultimately the only way to increase your access to your own power is by relying on it and respecting it, eagles of how it looks in your life. When your power comes from the infinite source of power — the Tao or God or the Force — it is right, good, clean, and clear. Do whatever it takes to stay connected with this aspect of your being. You will need it over and over again, throughout your entire life.

© 2015 Vimala McClure

PARENTING WITH PRINCIPLE THREE: EMPOWER — Part Two

THE OPPOSITE

To empower means not to overpower or disempower. We need to learn to separate ourselves from our children in order to empower them correctly. Enmeshment — too much identification with our children — can lead to tightening and anxiety as they move away and begin to be who they are.

There are many examples of situations that could be perceived as “failures” but, because of internal empowerment, are actually successes. For example, it took Thomas Edison more than twenty years and thousands of failed experiments before he invented the electric light. Many famous authors were rejected numerous times before being published. Most successful people had many failures along the way. Helpless people who are not internally empowered cannot respond to rejection and adversity in their proper context. Life may not be fair, but our response to obstacles and adversities is learned.

If you are overly concerned about what other think of you as a parent or what they think of your children, you cannot be genuine and flexible — two important aspects of empowerment. If your own sense of success and happiness is dependent upon your children behaving a certain way, making certain choices, or living up to certain standards and expectations that are predetermined and rigid, you can’t empower your children to be healthy, powerful adults who make good choices for themselves. If you feel like a failure when your children make mistakes, get bd grades, or don’t make the team — if you feel constant pressure to make them a certain way so that you feel good about yourself — you will have difficulty with this principle.

© 2015 Vimala McClure

“The best leader remains obscure, leading but drawing no personal attention. As long as the collective has direction, the leader is satisfied. Credit is not to be taken, it will be awarded when the people realize that it was the subtle influence of the leader that brought them success.”

— Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Daily Meditations

The subject of power is a huge one, worth looking at both within and outside the context of Tai Chi and Taoism. It is vitally important for parents to understand power, because the way we use or misuse it in our own lives is the way we teach our children about their power, our power, and other people’s power and that is probably the most significant lesson we teach. The right use of power results in self-respect, respect for others, confidence, fearlessness, and balance.

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 The Tao or the Way is where all true power resides. In Tai Chi, the exercises learned with the body teach you something about chi or the life force, the power of the Tao that comes through the individual. In the Indian system of yoga, issues of power reside in the second and third chakras, located roughly in the navel area. In Tai Chi, our center of power is called the tan t’ien (in Chinese) or hara (in Japanese), and is located in essentially the same place. It is from there we get and transfer power, which is rooted in the earth, and comes up through the feet and legs.

What is the “Opponent?”

Tai Chi is a martial art as well as a spiritual practice — and certainly raising your child should not involve fighting or power struggles, and it should definitely not require hitting or striking of any kind. When we look at Tai Chi practices, it is within the metaphoric context of using our power correctly, knowing how to change the energy in a situation of potential frustration, angers, or power struggle, and knowing how to help our children learn to get in touch with and utilize their own internal power.

When I speak of your “opponent” in this context, I don’t mean your child should be perceived as an enemy, to be overpowered or controlled. Again, it is a metaphor: the “opponent” is any energy that is causing disempowerment, separation, or frustration between you and your child. Combative situations will always arise, either in your personal life that spill over into your parenting, or in your relationship with your child. As Tai Chi teacher Ron Sieh says, “To be calm in the midst of chaos cannot be accomplished by avoiding chaos. I have a choice concerning aggression and combat and I can choose from my heart, not out of fear.”

In Tai Chi, one of the first exercises practiced with an opponent is called “attaching steps.” The student paces the partner, trying to perfectly match her moves and intentions, as if he is attached to her. This requires learning how to get inside the other person’s shoes, so to speak, to be so at one with her or attuned to her that one automatically moves with the other, not a moment after. Try this with your child — mirror her moves to understand her energy.

With the aid of breathing and meditation practice, the student can then move on to what is called “listening power” — building a connection and communication with the “opponent” (in this case, your child who is in opposition) so you can then precisely detect the opponent’s level of strength, center of gravity, motivation, speed, and so on. This gives you tremendous power, as you can then anticipate an opponent’s moves and use the opponent’s own force to defeat the aggressive energy coming from her.

Another important practice for parents is called “sinking power.” The student learns to “sink,” through his chi, and use his connection with the earth in response to his partner’s attempt to uproot him. Before you respond to a child in opposition, use sinking power. Ground yourself in just a few minutes:

  1. Stand still, upright
  2. Take a deep full breath in, and a slow full breath out
  3. Press your feet into the floor, standing equally on the soles of your feet
  4. Make your thighs firm, as if the muscles are hugging the bones
  5. Relax your shoulders, pull in the belly
  6. Imagine there is a pillar of light from above, through your body, into the earth through your feet
  7. If possible, close your eyes. Breathe deeply and find that “still place” within

Now respond to your child, mirroring her movements and speaking what you perceive as her feelings.

“You don’t want to stop playing and come to dinner. . .”

“I see that you’re really upset. . .”

“You don’t want me to hold the baby right now. . .”

Continue to mirror, to listen, to allow your child to clarify.

To “empower,” in Tai Chi, involves a technique called “transferring power.” It can be used for harm, that is, to transfer your power through a slap, a spank or kick. It can also be used for good by helping your child become aware of his or her own power, without giving or loaning them yours.

SPANKING

Principle Three, empowerment, is linked intrinsically to Principle Seven, flow and let go. We will see how as we go along. The t’ui who circle exercise represents the Tao in that it seems empty and transparent. But when you utilize its power, you find it is inexhaustible. As the Taoist sage Lao Tau said, “When you follow Tao it will round off the sharp edges, untangle confusing threads, dim all glaring light. It molds and smooths the dust.”

The kind of power we seek to cultivate as parents is the power of the Tao. Like water, it is smooth, flowing, yielding, penetrable, yet strong enough to “round off the sharp edge” of things.

Won Chung-Ya, an ancient Taoist master, emphasized the importance of avoiding “double weightedness” — that is, reacting the same way every time, getting stuck on one way of responding, being always on one side of the yin/yang balance.

 YIN YANG

He had his students practice constantly moving so when they were up, they became aware of down; when they were right, they were aware of left. They learned that not responding to the “opponent” appropriately for that specific moment and that specific person and that specific interaction results in difficulty and awkwardness, which leads to defeat.

We are so accustomed to “taking a stand” that we forget the universe is constantly moving, shifting, and changing — even rock changes, over a period of time. So in our approach to our children in this ever-changing phenomenon we call the world, we must be flexible enough to remember that each child, each situation, each time, each incident, and each interaction is different from any other. Though we connect ourselves to principles that don’t change, such as unconditional love, respect, empowerment, the way we respond within those principles must be flexible according to time, place, and person.

KID WITH WORLD

© 2015 Vimala McClure

PARENTING WITH PRINCIPLE TWO: SLOW DOWN Part Three

Principle Two with Babies

If you have learned how to slow down by the time your baby arrives, you will have the time of your life. Your baby’s infancy will be filled with magic, with moments that turn into hours, just watching him or her being. But there are a lot of responsibilities that come with a new baby and, particularly if you also have other children, life can get even more action packed after all the drama of childbirth has passed, the relatives have gone home, the spouse has returned to work, and hormones begin adjusting to a new body structure, nursing or not.

Move slowly through your day, or make a couple of two-hour spots a time to move in slow motion. Learn yoga’s “Mountain Pose” — when you are standing, make your feet hip-width apart. Press your feet into the floor so that you stand evenly on the soles of your feet, relax your toes, so that your body is in total balance. Make your legs so that the muscles of your thighs “hug” the bones; pull in your belly, relax your shoulders. Breathe deeply, slowly. You will find that your attention is focused, you move with your baby purposefully, breathing in and enjoying every moment. Siblings will eventually learn (without really knowing) to move with you and that you don’t react or become frazzled by their demands.

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Fathers can play an integral role in learning to practice Principle Two with a new baby. Dads, don’t wait for an invitation to get involved with the care of your baby. At the hospital or birthing center or at home, during the first few days, allow the new mom to rest. Don’t let well-meaning aunts or grandmothers push you out of the way. Ask the nurses or midwives how to change, burp, take the temperature, and bathe your baby. If you and your partner have agreed, learn how to feed the baby (even breastfed babies can occasionally accept breast milk from a bottle). If your partner complains about the way you do things, don’t be defensive. Ask her to show you how she does it, and thank her. As one dad said, “After a while she’ll get tired of being the ‘baby boss’ and will relinquish more control to you.” Studies have shown that a father’s sensitive caregiving leads to a secure bond with his infant and that a warm, gratifying marital relationship supports a father’s involvement with his baby.

Fathers can walk, rock, sing to, dance with, read to, and massage their babies as well as do maintenance activities like feeding, changing, and bathing. Many people don’t realize that fathers, too, have “parenting hormones” that are activated by close contact with your baby, for your own well being as well as theirs. Slow down for the times you are with your baby; breathe deeply and move in slow motion.

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FROM THE TAO OF MOTHERHOOD:

There is no natural pouring-forth

that lasts forever. When it rains,

it stops. The wind blows,

and then it ceases.

Learn to use your words wisely,

to communicate rather than to lecture.

Speak your truth, state your feelings,

then stop.Your actions, in silence,

speak louder and will be heard.

Teach your children this:

A human being is greater than

a human doing.

Purchase THE TAO OF MOTHERHOOD:

http://www.amazon.com/Tao-Motherhood-Vimala-McClure/dp/1608680134?ref_=pe_584750_33951330

© 2015 Vimala McClure

PARENTING WITH PRINCIPLE TWO: SLOW DOWN

Slowing down seems contradictory to family life in Western cultures, particularly in the U.S., and especially if we have more than one child. But if you can learn to consciously slow the pace when you feel it going out of bounds, your family life will be easier, more fun, relaxed, and happy.

“As young children we were full of life, always playing or running around with our friends. We would turn from one activity to another with endless enthusiasm. Games of hide-and-seek were an opportunity for unlimited imagination, exploration, and curiosity. It seemed we never got bored or tired of whatever we were doing in the moment. For the most part, our childhoods were an endless series of positive feelings — joy, laughter, curiosity, surprise, confidence, and adventure. We had not learned yet to worry, to hold grudges, or to have regrets about the past. Most young children, in fact, are generally unstressed, full of awe and curiosity, and rarely bored. Most have enormous amounts of energy, are unconditionally loving, and seem to have boundless energy that make adults envy their innocent approach to life. These uncontaminated children live from a state of mind that we practitioners of Psychology of Mind like to call mental health. They live naturally in the moment.”
From: Carlson, Richard; Bailey, Joseph (2009-10-13). Slowing Down to the Speed of Life: How To Create a Peaceful, Simpler Life F (p. 4). HarperCollins.
As adults we still have the capacity for mental health, but we have been socialized into the busy ways of Western culture, and many of us have grown serious, analytical, stressed, depressed, and unimaginative. Beginning when we reach age five or six, and steadily progressing into adulthood, our experience of mental health declines. This decline seems to correspond with our propensity to use memory and analytical thinking more often as we get older and our creative, in-the-moment thinking less often.

When we slow down, we tap into a peaceful feeling that permeates our entire being and way of life. Rather than constantly feeling rushed, hurried, and frustrated, we feel calm, joyful, and curious. Bad things still happen when we slow down, but they never look as bad as when we’re speeded up.
As the mind slows down, we are able to see life much more clearly. We have many of the same issues to contend with, but they look different. Rather than appearing to be emergencies that are smothering us, they look like issues that need resolving or opportunities in disguise.
Feelings are a mechanism to let us know when our minds are operating too quickly and when it’s time to slow down. Just as a timer goes off to signal that dinner is ready, an internal buzzer goes off when you are thinking in an unhealthy way. If you listen to these feelings and trust what they are trying to tell you, you will begin to experience the peace and joy of your mental health. Never again will life seem like such an emergency!

The 12 Slow Habits to Help You Create a Slower Family Life

Wake Up. Practice waking up every single day to see the beauty in your life.
Release. Embrace the idea of letting go of what is not working for you any longer to create more time for what you love.
Reframe. Accept that your busy life is your beautiful life and start telling yourself a different story about how you are living.
Focus. Aim for a distraction-free life where you always try to do one thing or nothing at all.
Go Slowly. Forget rushing through and start lingering more in all areas of your day.
Do Less. Understand that the only way to have more time for the good stuff is to do less of the other stuff.
Plug-in. Reject the notion that you need to unplug and start intentionally plugging in to be more efficient with your time and life.
Unstructured. Create more free time in your family’s day to allow the wow moments to evolve and multiply.
Go Quiet. Quiet your mind and feel time expand in the process.
Savor. Take time to appreciate every little detail around you.
Abundance. Start seeing time for what it is — something to be thankful for in your life.
Make Space. Carve out physical, mental and emotional space in your life for the things you want more of in your day.

You Will Learn:

  1. To slow down and enjoy each moment.
  2. That slowing down doesn’t involve major changes in your lifestyle.
  3. That contrary to conventional wisdom, your productivity will actually increase when you slow down.
  4. That other people’s habits, attitudes, behaviors, and moods don’t have to affect the quality of your day or the speed of your life.
  5. That even though people around you or your work setting may be rushed and stressed, you can maintain a calm in the midst of their storm.
  6. That by slowing down, you will be far more prepared for the unexpected.
  7. That ordinary moments can become extraordinary.
  8. That even life’s most serious circumstances and events don’t have to be taken so seriously.
  9. That the best preparation for the future is to live your life fully in the present.
  10. That you can finally get the satisfaction you’ve been striving for.
  11. That, finally, you can be happy!

Principle Two in Pregnancy

For a woman, from the beginning of pregnancy, slowing down is a must; the energy you produce within your body is going directly through your baby’s body via the placenta. What I mean by “energy” is the life force, which the Chinese call chi and the Indians call prana, that circulates throughout your body — body your physical body and your more subtle psychic or mental body. The energy flowing through your body helps to regulate your glandular system, which produces hormones through your endocrine system. the more rapid, harried, or frenzied your energy, the more stress hormones you send through your body. If that type of energy is chronic, you are likely to chronically stress your baby, to the point where the baby’s body recognizes this type of energy as normal, and will continue producing it after birth.

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Noted physicist Dr. Bruce Lipton says,

“It is important to note that individual events of parental anger and fear do not necessarily distort the physiology of the developing child. It is specifically chronic, or continuously held emotions that prove to be detrimental during pregnancy. For example, women who sustain physical and emotional abuse during their pregnancy represent situations where adverse environmental cues surrounding the birth of the child can be passed on to the offspring. These are cases of repeated, or patterned, abuses which is entirely distinct from parents that express a transient occasional spat or emotional peak.”
Dr. Lipton’s work has focused on how a mother’s emotional experiences affect an unborn baby’s development via biochemical “signal” molecules that are released into the blood (which passes through the placenta) and activate specific receptor proteins on the surfaces of cells in tissues and organs. These serve as molecular “switches” that adjust the metabolic system and behavior of the infant. So it is important that prospective parents realize they are programming their baby, even before birth, through the chronic emotional states they experience.
Stress hormones such as cortisol chronically circulating throughout the body eventually have devastating effects on physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. As women, we must understand the importance of how our energy affects our infants. To stay in what may be our own addiction to stress and drama is to deny this connection. As Dr. Lipton says, “Sustained parental anger and fear compromise the child’s development and health, as the emotional stresses chemically impact on the fetus.”
If there truly are circumstances we cannot control that put us in emotional situations, such as grief over the loss of a loved one, the key is to be sensitive to the fact that both you and your infant are going through this process together. Both of you need care, attention, and the awareness, not denial, that this stress affects both of you, and measures should be taken to slow it down and bring healing energy to it as much as possible. As Dr. Lipton says, “It should be noted that behavioral consequences of children exposed to negative or destructive attitudes during their prenatal development can be psychologically reversed, once the issues are recognized.”
The job of the baby’s father is to help you slow down and relax. This requires a lot of communication about what these concepts mean to each of you, and what is helpful and what is not. For example, criticizing a woman for not slowing down is usually not helpful. Asking if he can do tasks she usually does to help lighten her load is helpful. In addiction, learning to slow down is very helpful for the baby’s father if he is to be an integral part of his child’s life. In order to truly be with children of any age, we all must have the ability to slow ourselves down and relax into the present moment, because that is where our children live.
Practicing Controlled Belly Breathing every day during your pregnancy will help (see Principle Two, Part One). A childbirth education class should also help you, provided your teacher is aware of the more spiritual aspects of your new journey and your “coach” is a willing participant who is capable of helping to both calm and empower you. If your partner has a hard time doing this, consider getting a birthing coach. If you choose to do this, take care not to disempower the baby’s father, and be sure to include him as a member of the team so that all the bases are covered. Dad could take the role of family communicator and picture taker; getting ice chips, holding the mother’s hand, and so on. Dad and the birth coach could take turns. Make the decisions together, so everyone feels good about them.

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If you are a soon-to-be father, be sure to slow down and relax yourself so you can help your partner get through the birth more smoothly. If you can remain unruffled, and not take your partner’s expressions of fear or anger personally, you can be her rock — and believe me, she will be very grateful for it later.

Slowing Down Your Body

To slow down your body during pregnancy, do stretching exercises and squats, deep breathing, meditation, or prayer. Maintain a diet of fresh, life-enhancing foods, and practice deep relaxation to help slow down the body and mind. There are many CDs that are expressly for this purpose and can guide you through a total deep relaxation. These are all part of your job as a “grower nursery” for this new being, and will also help prepare you for the experience of giving birth. You will learn to nurture yourself and to take care of your body, mind, and spirit in a better way than before — in other words, you will have incorporated Principle Two into your life.

Pregnancy can also help you learn how to deal with day-to-day change. Your body changes, your relationships change, what you think about and are interested in changes. Tai Chi teacher Chungliang Al Huang, in his book Embrace Tiger, Return to Mountain, says,

“Part of our everyday conflict is how to cope with change and how to be happy with the constant. We are usually bored with the constant and frightened by change. Moving slowly, breathing slowly, turning everything into slow motion for a while each day helps us remember the balance of these two seeming opposites.”

© 2015 Vimala McClure

PRINCIPLE TWO: SLOW DOWN — Part One

“Slow down” is more similar in meaning in the East and in the West than “relax” and “yield,” but a Taoist view deepens its significance. In the Taoist way of thinking, slowing down brings us the ability to perceive the more subtle, or unseen, aspects of a situation. It brings awareness to those things we may forget or ignore when rushing to get something done, settled, over-with, or achieved. Many people link busyness to productivity, and they are shocked when, as a new parent, that busyness inhibits good parenting.

Slowing down helps us immensely to remember and practice Principle One (Relax)  because it is difficult, if not impossible, to relax in a hurry. When you have mastered the art of living in a relaxed way, you know how to move quickly in a way that does not tighten and harden your energy. That type of mastery takes conscious, everyday practice, yet it is possible for parents to achieve at least enough of this quality of slowing down in the midst of hurry to reap its benefits.

As you begin to slow down, your life begins to change. Your ability to focus on one thing at a time increases as you learn to dismiss distractions. You begin to enjoy the very process of living. Aspects of life that you had taken for granted become sources of interest and joy.

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Superficial changes don’t work. If you move to the countryside, you still take your thinking with you. You need to slow down from the inside out. After you learn to live in a calmer state of mind, you may decide to make some lifestyle changes. You will enjoy them because they aren’t another gimmick to help you cope — like that relaxation CD you never listen to, the yoga mat in your closet. Especially with a new baby, the world will not accommodate you by making fewer demands. Your experience of stress results not from the circumstances of your harried life but from your habitual way of perceiving life.

In Slowing Down to the Speed of Life by Richard Carlson and Joseph Bailey, they give us eight principles you will learn by slowing down:

  1. to slow down and enjoy each moment
  2. that slowing down doesn’t involve major changes in your lifestyle
  3. that your productivity will actually increase
  4. that other people’s attitudes, behaviors and moods don’t have to affect the quality of your day or the speed of your life
  5. that even though your work setting may be rushed or stressed, you can maintain calm
  6. that by slowing down you will be more prepared for the unexpected
  7. that even life’s serious circumstances and events don’t have to be taken so seriously
  8. that you can be happy
“Slowing down is a qualitative experience that comes from the inside out.”

Surrender Your Limitations

In the martial art Tai Chi, slowing down helps to create an awareness of all that is going on in the moment. One is able to step into a place that is purely present time, in which the past and future do not exist. A passage I interpreted from Lao Tzu’s Tao te Ching in my book, The Tao of Motherhood, captures the moment I understood this principle in my life as a parent:

Everything that endures can
only do so because Eternal
Consciousness gives it sentience.
A mother who gives herself
completely to her infant meets
herself in the dark and finds
fulfillment.
In the hours between midnight
and dawn, she crossed the
threshold of self-concern and
discovers a Self that has no limits.
A wise mother meets this
Presence with humility and steps
through time into selflessness.
Infants know when their mothers
have done this, and they
become peaceful.
Who, then, is the doer? Is it the
infant who brings its mother
through the veil of self-concern
into limitlessness? Is it the
mother, who chooses to hold
sacred her infant’s needs and
surrender herself? Or is it the
One, which weaves them both
through a spiraling path
toward wholeness?
You can sit and meditate while
your baby cries himself to sleep.
Or you can go to him and share
his tears, and find your Self.

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The ability to do this — not all the time, but at appropriate times — increases the energy you have to give to your children. Why? Because the present is, literally, the heart of God or the Tao. We find a second wind when we slow down enough to really be present, even for a few moments.

Tai Chi teacher Douglas Lee talks about kinesthetic perception in relation to the benefits of slowing down. Especially during the period of time from the beginning of pregnancy until your child is fully able to communicate with words, this ability to perceive on a subtle level is valuable to every parent. It enables you to tune in to your baby’s body language and respond accordingly. It also allows you to learn how to listen to your own body and your own intuition or inner sense of what is best for you and for your child. You pick up the signs of stress before they have turned into full scale alarms, and you have the opportunity to de-escalate, to take care of your needs appropriately, at the appropriate time.

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Many health professionals these days talk about “cues” — sensory signals babies give that mean they are experiencing on thing or another. It is very good that the medical profession finally acknowledges the need to respond to babies as more than just unfeeling objects. (When I had my first baby, scientists were still saying babies don’t feel pain!) As a parent, you are the one best equipped to learn your child’s cues or body language, not only because you’ve carried the baby around for over nine months and are intimately, cellularly connected, but because you live with your baby twenty-four hours a day and can translate all those signals much better than a strangers (We’ll talk more about this in Priniciple Five). To access this knowledge you need to slow down, observe, and receive what your baby wants to communicate.

In a society like ours (and increasingly around the world) slowing down is perceived as being tantamount to growing old, being depressed, dying, or inviting failure. We are afraid of falling behind; we have lost respect for the slow wisdom of our elders and the natural ebb and flow of the life force. So we literally wear ourselves out, and in the meantime we miss so many of the most valuable treasures of our lives.

Remember the American cartoon character Roadrunner? We admire the roadrunner figure; he is always faster, way ahead of the crafty coyote. But if you think about it, that style of life, while bringing certain kinds of success, eliminates any possibility of being. As a parent, this style is disastrous, because the things we miss in our frantic race to beat the odds, or the next person, or to reach a goal, are the things of which life is made. We rush toward hardness and death having never enjoyed the very thing we are rushing to secure — the soft, juicy stuff — our children, our families, our lives.

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Perseverance Furthers

Like the fable of the tortoise and the hare, we ultimately find that, as the Taoists say, “perseverance furthers.” Rather than bringing into being all the things we fear, when we slow down we’re given the tortoises’s endurance to outlast the speeding rabbit, the endurance to face our fears courageously and master our challenges.

While a rushing stream may push obstacles out of its way, a lazy river will flow over, around, and through all things in its path. There is harmony and serenity outwardly, and great power underneath, where the current is very strong. All rushing streams end up in lazy rivers that follow their nature to merge with the great ocean. Similarly, when we slow down, we find the great internal strength available to us, and we begin to both communicate with and follow that deep tug of the”ocean” — the Oneness of all things, the Tao, the natural order of things. Outwardly, we appear calm, relaxed, and we seem to be doing little. Ambitious strivers rush past us with a look of disdain.

Perseverance is definitely a quality of Principle Two. In 365 Tao Daily Meditations, Deng Ming-Dao says,

“When it seems as if nothing encouraging is happening to us, it is important to remember such perseverance. Work may be drudgery, maintaining a home may be routine, and we may find our goals quite distant. But we must persevere toward our goals, and buoy our faith in rough and threatening times.”

In the anthology, Vitality, Energy, Spirit: a Taoist Sourcebook, Taoist master Huai-Nan-Tzu said: 

“How could the vital spirit be forever rushing around without becoming exhausted? . . . When the vitality, spirit, will, and energy are calm and slow, they fill you day by day and make you strong.”

©2015 Vimala McClure

The Principles of Tai Chi Offer Us a Metaphor for Right Parenting

An entirely different picture of “family” is emerging; 

most of the paradigms we have developed over the last millennium 

are no longer viable.

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Because our family structures, our values, and our experience of family will continue to change, it is particularly important for us to understand that being a good parent and raising healthy, responsible children requires us to be grounded in the deeper meaning of the role of parent. We must be able to change beyond what may now seem possible to us, and the only way to achieve that is to develop a firm rooting in the spiritual dimension of parenthood.

Parenting as a Mission

What I know without any doubt is that bringing every gift I came here with, every iota of strength and wisdom, every droopy love and loyalty, everything I have, to the task, the mission, and the gift of bringing up two souls to live their own lives and fulfill their destinies is the most important thing I have ever done, or ever will do. I don’t expect this singularity of purpose from others, but because of it I have been able to pay close attention to the dynamics, the secrets, and the lessons of real parenthood — much more closely, I believe, than many academic experts who observe interactions in made-up environments and offer theories on what is healthy or correct and formulas that rarely “work.” What I attempt to do, rather, is to go deeper into the idea that parenting is a mission, however large or small a part it plays in your life. From that perspective, everything you think about parenting changes. It is no longer a series of problems to solve; it is, instead, an important part of your personal growth, and even your spiritual path.

We Rarely Look Very Far Ahead

The biological urge and the psychological need to bear children rarely help us look beyond pregnancy and birth. We may fantasize about what our child will be like. We may form some opinions about home or hospital birth, breast or bottle feeding, and about if or when we will put our children in day care. But few parents take the time to discover and define how being a parent fits into their lifelong mission. Few of us look ahead to how this new person will change our lives.

Our Children Arrive with Agendas of their Own

Sooner or later our children let us know they arrived in the world with agendas of their own. While we have a tremendous influence over the way they express and live out their agendas, we cannot mold and control them. They have as much to teach us as we want to teach them, and the wise parent realizes this early on. Because of this give-and-take dance, we sometimes feel out of step with our children and conflict arises. We may try to teach at a moment when we should be receptive. Our children may not listen to us because they have not been heard. Therefore, the dynamic of opposition is always arising in these relationships. We can learn how to dance with this flow of energy.

Using the Principles of the Martial Art Tai Chi

For example, in the ancient Chinese martial art practice of Tai Chi, the goal is not to defeat an opponent. Rather, we learn to flow with the energy of opposition, assisting its movement toward its natural conclusion, which is exhaustion. We defeat the “opponent,” then, by his own momentum rather than by stiff resistance. Ultimately our goal — peace and harmony — is reached without overt violence or force.

The principles of Tai Chi are based upon eternal truths: Tao (pronounced dow) is the immutable Being, the oneness toward which all beings are moving. Harmony prevails when we find harmony with the eternal flow of Tao. Strength is found in the persistent, gentle flow of the life-force. Water is often used as a symbol of the kind of strength we wish to develop; the gentle drip of water on rock eventually carves that rock as no brute force can. A river made the Grand Canyon; no bulldozer could create such a phenomenon.

Right Parenting

I use Tai Chi principles to communicate what I believe is good parenting — right parenting. In Tai Chi, you learn how to flow with the life force of the universe. You do not oppose an attacker’s force, you step aside and permit the attacker’s life energy to pass. As he is flying by, you give him a nudge to assist him to get where his momentum is taking him more quickly. You learn to ground your energy into the earth is such a way as to have all the strength of the earth within your body. When you master this practice, you are unshakeable.

A wise parent learns to discover the life force within and move with it to guide her children. When met with opposition, she grounds herself in the eternal and allows the opposition to exhaust itself naturally. She remains calm, providing an immutable base for her children’s growth. In this way, she teaches them how the universe works, provides a model of healthy parenting, and gains their trust and respect in the process.

Beginner’s Mind

The experience of parenting is as instructive and productive for you as it is for your child. Children help us define and refine our character. They give us many opportunities, challenges, and tests along the way. If we look ahead to the coming years with, as Buddhists say, “beginner’s mind,” we are excited about everything we will learn. There is no guru or mentor that can give us greater or deeper teaching than our children.