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Learning in Freedom

Welcome to Learning in Freedom, a blog all about the learning adventures (and mishaps) of the Allen family. My four children are unschooled, following their interests and passions every day and living the lives of their choosing. The purpose of this blog is to share our every day lives (and my not-so-humble opinons) with anyone interested in stopping by. We hope this will give a glimpse of how natural learning unfolds from day to day......

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Mindfulness matters: issue 3




"Connecting with places or things that help us go within is part of this parenting journey. When we are in touch with our own rhythm, with that river of ideas, thoughts and energy that flows throughout the universe, we feel whole and centered. Even amidst the chaos, we can be connected with that flow."






"Part of this journey has been to discover how I can fall, bruise myself and move forward without getting hung up. An ample dose of self-forgiveness is a healthy thing to model for my children while also letting them know I'm still learning and growing as a parent."






"How we embrace life's seasons and changes, how we honor these changes with ritual and awareness matters greatly. An unschooling lifestyle enables us to create truly meaningful rituals born of family connections and interests."






Cool Connections

Soulful Living

Wherever You Go,
There You Are


How to Bury a
Goldfish


Everyday Sacred

Everyday Zen



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Mindfulness Matters

by Ren Allen




I've felt a bit loose at the edges lately. You know, one of those weeks where nothing seems to fit and words get interpreted differently than you meant? One of those weeks where no matter how hard you try, something has been forgotten or not finished or come out wrong. There are moments like this, and sometimes because there are so many moments, it seems to become the theme of your day or week. Staying in the moment always helps, but sometimes the moment is so intense or comes on the heels of so many other moments, that I just end up feeling frazzled.

These are the days that mindfulness matters even more. These are the days where we learn what true mindfulness means at the very core of our being. These are the days that sometimes we forget about our mindfulness practice and learn that trying too hard and doing too much isn't being mindful either. I'm relearning this tonight.

There has been a recurring theme throughout discussions online and in person this last year about how freedom without mindfulness is a recipe for disaster. I believe this fully. Children left to their own devices have a lot of freedom, but they don't have the mindful, guiding and loving presence of an adult that wants to help them navigate this world with its huge variety of challenges. Too much freedom without the aware adult leads to disaster every time.

Those of us on this path of whole-life learning and gentle parenting want our children to have the benefit of parents who are living life fully, who are awake and aware. We are also the children. We are all the ages we once were. We need to parent ourselves gently and mindfully too. I've written about our self-talk frequently, but it's good to remind myself not only to speak kindly to ME, but to give myself some space in which to breathe.

Space can be a five minute meditation; it can be a walk or writing or drawing. Space to breathe freely of our dreams, to look at what we have done, rather than what isn't done, and to give ourselves a hug. Space to sip tea, to look at the amazing gifts of the children alive and well in our presence, to thank the universe for our wealth (we are all wealthy) and to realize how fragile and amazing this day is.

Some mornings I sit and stare at the trees in my yard while breathing in the day. They are often my meditation. They change so much from season to season, and I love feeling the pulse of those changes. They are almost stripped naked right now, poking bare fingers at a bleak skyline. They are stripped of all obvious life, yet they live. Cells of life are behaving just as tree cells should, storing energy for the cold nights ahead. In the spring they will return with their haughty array of color, proving the life that flows this very moment. They remind me that there are seasons to life, not only for trees but for the creatures that share this planet with them. They remind me to go within, to strip away, to cloak myself in beauty and to trust the pulse of my own rhythm.

Connecting with places or things that help us go within is part of this parenting journey. When we are in touch with our own rhythm, with that river of ideas, thoughts and energy that flows throughout the universe, we feel whole and centered. Even amidst the chaos, we can be connected with that flow. It doesn't mean we don't feel despair at the thought of yet ANOTHER _____ mess (fill in the blank, poop, barf, food, dog, ...get creative!) or sigh at the mountain of laundry awaiting our hands. Mindfulness practice isn't about blocking or ignoring those feelings, it's exactly the opposite! Being truly aware means to NOTICE if nothing else. Noticing or paying attention to our own feelings and the thoughts surrounding our reactions actually furthers our mindfulness practice.

Jon Kabat-Zinn talks about it in Wherever You Go, There You Are, a book I love dearly. His feelings upon encountering a cat dish in the sink are interesting. Rather than reacting to his initial angst, he simply notices the feelings. In paying attention to the feelings, he finds that it's not the cat dish that's bothering him after all; it's the feeling of being ignored, disrespected and uncared for that triggers his initial emotional response. In the end, the reaction isn't based on the initial feeling. That "noticing" is an extremely helpful tool as we deepen our relationship with mindfulness.

I find myself speaking words that aren't mindful at times. That's the tough part. But the great thing about this is that I can often halt myself midstream and say "wow, that wasn't very helpful!" while the kids are looking at me strangely. I apologize, try a different angle and attempt to move gracefully forward. Part of this journey has been to discover how I can fall, bruise myself and move forward without getting hung up. An ample dose of self-forgiveness is a healthy thing to model for my children while also letting them know I'm still learning and growing as a parent. When something goes awry, I can ask myself, "what am I supposed to learn from this?"

I believe most of the ways we practice mindfulness are in the mundane, everyday tasks, in the way we think, the way we see and the way we act or react. Being aware is to live fully. I often use death as my litmus test for what is important. This helps me keep perspective on what this moment brings and how well I navigate.

Some of our mindfulness practice is about being proactive. Rituals can be a grounding, centering way to connect with each other and this earth. Rituals are a way to proactively seek these connections while honoring our family and personal needs. Creating rituals that are uniquely our own can bring a sense of of warmth and balance to our daily lives.

In How to Bury a Goldfish there are several interesting and easy-to-recreate rituals that get right to the heart of day-to-day life. I especially love the "blessing hunting" that is all about cultivating gratitude. The authors, Lang and Nayer, suggest having a list of "awesome things" to read for inspiration (everyone could create their own) and writing down five wonderful things about your life each day. I know of one unschooling family who focuses on the positive by having a "gratitude wall" in their house where each family member can write positive things about their lives or each other.

Choosing what aspects of our lives we will focus on is a huge part of mindfulness practice. Just realizing that I could choose my responses, choose how I felt was incredibly empowering as I journeyed forward into unschooling and gentle parenting.

Ritual can be as simple as nightly stories. It can be an elaborate breakfast for a birthday child or family stories being passed on. It can be morning exercise or a monthly celebration of the full moon. WHAT it is matters very little. How we embrace life's seasons and changes, how we honor these changes with ritual and awareness matters greatly. An unschooling lifestyle enables us to create truly meaningful rituals born of family connections and interests.

I had a good reminder of ritual creation recently. Our family hosted a Day of the Dead party, an evening full of food, laughter and sticky fingers. One highlight of the evening was a circle ritual. This particular ritual was about honoring a young child that had died earlier this year; Hannah Jenner is never far from my thoughts. We placed a scoop of dirt from around her weeping willow tree (planted earlier in the season for Hannah) into an envelope and mixed in a small portion of her ashes. As a fire burned behind us, we passed the envelope from person to person, each of us recounting what Hannah meant to us in life or death. As each person threw his or her handful onto the ground, we felt a wonderful connection and sharing, a hauntingly beautiful remembrance of life and the gift we have today.

Part of my journey on this path of gentle parenting is to remember that my children are here with me, healthy, learning and growing. Acknowledging what I DO have helps me navigate the areas where I feel a sense of lack because the only lack is within, and it's all perception. I have everything I need today to help my children learn. I have everything I need to be respectful and aware. I only need touch that river flowing, remember the fragility and grandness of this day in order to stay centered and balanced. When I forget these things in lesser moments, my children will bring me back to abundance if I continue to trust their unique brand of wisdom.

As I look at the child right before my eyes, as I fully align myself with her needs in this very moment, as I let go of what others think and what "should" be, I find myself acting mindfully. It sounds so simple, and it is. Yet most of us have had to learn how to be fully present in the moment, how truly to listen to our children and tune into what they need because we didn't have a model for this. All we need to do is listen and pay attention. Mindfulness really is that simple.

The children right in front of us are all that matters. The fascination or interest they are showing us is all that matters. What schooled kids are doing today is irrelevant. What the "experts" say is irrelevant. We have our own expert with us everyday, showing the way to natural learning and mindful parenting. If they're digging in the dirt, then digging in the dirt is exactly what they need right now. We can enjoy the activity with them, noticing the dirt, feeling it, smelling it and remembering how it feels to be fascinated and capture this moment forever.

If they're watching tv, we can find out what makes them laugh, we can BE there absorbing the joy of discovery. If they are screaming in frustration, we can be there with them in that moment and trust that navigating the difficult moments is equally valuable. It's all part of their learning.

Being present with my child is the greatest connection of all. Being fully present in each moment of our lives is the best way to live fully and embrace the life we've been given. Parenting itself offers all of us a journey to mindfulness.

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