Freedom to fly: issue 2
Unschooling Mums Jess Chittum and Laura Bowman shopping with children for art supplies during First Friday in Johnson City TN
"The key question isn't 'What fosters creativity?' But it is why in God's name isn't everyone creative? Where was the human potential lost? How was it crippled? I think therefore a good question might be not why do people create? But why do people not create or innovate? We have got to abandon that sense of amazement in the face of creativity, as if it were a miracle if anybody created anything."
"Wild and Precious" by Ren 10/09
"In the end, being an artist is really very simple. All you need to do is create... and EVERYONE creates something in some way. You are no exception. Accept the word 'artist.' Use it to describe yourself as well as others. Embrace it. It is a part of who you are. "
—Jessica, on Imagination Tribe
Image by Jess Chittum 1/09
Tea With Ren
Wily Walnut: Unleash your inner genius!
Art in Your Pocket
Freedom to Fly
Originally published in Connections Ezine which also published my interview (originally here at Learning in Freedom) with author Ami McKay.
There's a popular song by Switchfoot that I hear on the radio frequently with haunting lyrics: "We were meant to live for so much more, have we lost ourselves? Somewhere we live inside."
It speaks to me of damaged spirits, broken humans who are seeking that wholeness for which we all long. That wholeness we were born with, wholeness that assists us in creating the life we desire and a being that knows the inner self. Somewhere within us all, is that perfect child-being that began this life journey intact. The voice of that child is the key to an authentic life, the path to healing and part and parcel of what makes unschooling blossom.
Maybe it sounds idealistic or overly emotional, but I believe this to be true: that which we love brings color to our lives and gives us focus.
For most of the readers here, our children are one of the foremost passions in our lives. Not only our children themselves, but how to raise them in a gentle, respectful manner, how to give them freedom while sharing information and how to help them navigate the world without the limiting school mindset. Beyond our children, though, what are our driving passions in life?
What catches your eye, makes your heart sing and fascinates you? How are we as parents, being an example to our children about how to acheive the dreams of our hearts?
If we are overly focused on what the children are learning, we might be missing a very important part of this unschooling life—living out the life we envision for ourselves. This isn't an excuse to make any child's needs less important than our own; it's simply a look at how we as unschooling parents can pursue a life of passion while being fully present for our children. These are not exclusive activities; they are an important part of successful unschooling.
I think of the word "excavation" when I look back over my life experiences that enabled me fully to trust the dreams that lay within. The definition I love is this: "To lay bare through digging". Digging isn't always easy work, it can get pretty ugly at times. We all need tools to make this excavation of the inner self a more efficient activity.
An excavation pump is a kind of dredging apparatus for underwater excavation. I like to think of my children as my greatest "excavation pumps"! They tend to stir up all that loose material sitting down deep and draw it to the surface. Sometimes it's silt, but more often I'm getting gold.
Excavating the authentic self is a journey within, but often it starts from outside ourselves. Here are some topics to think about and tools to utilize:
—NOURISH the passions.
—Surround yourself with positive people and role models.
—Prioritize yourself! Making yourself as important as the people you nourish everyday does not mean putting their needs lower. It means that you treat yourself with the same kindnesses you give them.
—Practice self-compassion. Once again, give yourself that which you give others. You want to talk gently and respectfully to your own children, do you talk gently and respectfully to yourself?
—Heal old hurts. Discover where the negative messages come from because they didn't originate with YOU. Was this something your parents told you? Something a teacher said? A societal message? Time to release all negative self-talk and nourish yourself with kindness.
—Pay attention! Notice the colors that attract you, see the details, give credit to the things that fascinate you, look for clues about what that inner child loves.
Last week I was in Albuquerque for the Live and Learn conference. While walking in Old Town a lovely sign with sillhouettes of ravens caught my eye. I thought "nah, I need to save my film" and didn't photograph it. Later, I was browsing through the conference photos and saw that exact sign in someone's photo collection. It looked great! A good reminder to me to trust that which draws my attention.
Another useful tool in my life, has been learning to suspend my judgment of what constitutes "beautiful" or "ugly". Analyzing objects and art from a detached, observational point of view can give our children a chance to gather their own messages from these experiences, without all the baggage that judgment can bring. Observing color, shape, style and form can be done without the personal investment that a judgment brings. Once we proclaim something "ugly", it is rejected and unworthy, closing the doors of learning.
Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder, and discussing the finer points without those instant judgments can lead to fabulous conversations.
There may be some conclusion reached later about the object's value or lack thereof, but travel the road of observation and discussion first. You never know where it might lead!
In learning to be observers, we can better support our own children's efforts in the world. If the learning process is more important than the end product, we can trust whatever experimentation is happening at the moment. When a child trusts the parent to honor all efforts, that trust fosters creativity and free expression. Feeling emotionally safe is of utmost importance if the creative self is to develop fully.
As we explore our own interests and passions through the eyes of a curious child, we become better equipped to trust our own children's unique gifts. We can ask ourselves whether the gifts of each family member being honored. How do you honor your gifts to the world?
In our family, we hang art up in frames to give it a feeling of important work. We send letters and cards to family members, regardless of the apparent "worth". We take photos of literally everything, including lego structures, barbie dolls, food we've cooked and other everyday activities. When we take the time to notice the work and archive it in some fashion, it says "this activity is important; I value what you do". I do this for myself as well as my children.
Part of free expression is using the gifts that inspire you the most. From dance and movement (yes, tree climbing is an art form) to arranging your room or house, to facilitating relationship issues, creating art or poetry and much more, these actions are all part of the human need to create and express.
I've found that all my years of schooling generated a lot of voices in my head that told me things like, "this isn't good enough to share," "I'm not nearly as good as _________(fill in the blank with just about anyone else)," or "I'm not that talented." Well guess what? I'm not in school anymore, and I refuse to let those voices define me!
Over at Imagination Tribe, my yahoo group for celebrating creativity, many new members lurk for a while before trying out one of the many art trades. They grapple (as many of us do) with that feeling of inadequacy. The only way through those feelings is to ignore them. Tell them to shush, and move forward in spite of any fears still holding you back from the life you deserve.
Deserve you ask? YES, we all deserve a life that is full and rich and interesting. Your children deserve to see you as the fullest expression of YOU! Not one other person on this earth has your unique combination of talents, traits and gifts. You owe the universe, you owe yourself, you owe your children the gift of being fully you.
"You" is a constantly changing and evolving entity. There is no plateau, there is no mountain-top. Self is a river flowing deep and wide (just like the song), and within that river there is unlimited inspiration for free expression, a continual source of ideas if we can only trust the process. When the inner critic rears its ugly head, we must make a choice. A choice that allows us to heed its message or ignore it. We have the power to choose the messages we live by, and we can choose only positive messages.
If your child said, "but it's not good enough" to some piece of their art that you wanted to hang, what would your response entail?
Think for a minute: would you discuss the frustration and be empathetic about what bothered them, or would you say, "yeah, it stinks so let's not hang it up"? Would you encourage them to understand that part of the creative process is frustration, or would you simply dismiss the art as unworthy? Most of us would never dismiss our own children, yet we do that to ourselves without thought! Please, be as kind to yourself as you are to others.
A tool we used at the Imagination Tribe talk this year at the Live and Learn Conference was a variation on a "burning bowl" ceremony. In a burning bowl ceremony, participants write things on a slip of paper that they want to release from their lives and ,when ready, walk up to a bowl with candle burning next to it. They light the paper and drop it into the bowl, signifying a willingness to release whatever was written. During the IT talk, we simply used a garbage can, figuring the hotel might get a bit suspicious if smoke started filling the hallway! After releasing our negative self-talk into the garbage, I passed around positive affirmations about our creative selves as a replacement for those negative messages. Positive affirmations are stated as fact, and after a time, your mind begins to believe them.
"I am infinitely creative; I am a creative genius"
"I love my life; I create that which I desire."
"I share my gifts with the world; I trust my unique talents"
One of the affirmations came back to me in a sweet way: a new friend at the conference handed me an ATC (Artist Trading Card) that she made with one of the slips of paper. On it were the words, "I can visualize my dreams into reality". What a personal and poignant reminder to trust my own dreams and the process of bringing my gifts into the world.
Because following our own passions is a common topic at the email lists, I've often shared personal anecdotes like the following because they illustrate how unschooling parents can pursue their own passions while remaining in tune with their children. Art is a big part of my life so I'll often use that as an example.
Some of our greatest moments unfold around my home when I'm deep into some project of my own and the kids swirl in (and sometimes back out). When we moved into our home, I set up an art area in the garage. All of our supplies are down there, and it's a huge, happy mess. I made sure to put a desk and chair for smaller people so they can get to paper and other supplies with ease.
One day, I was down there creating spirit dolls when Sierra wandered in and got excited, so I helped her start a doll of her own. Jalen eventually joined us and started painting and stamping while Sierra and I continued working on our dolls.
This is a frequent scenario in our home. I'll be involved in something, and the kids join in as they choose. All of my family members have asked questions about the dolls and given their opinions on different ones. Our interests overlap and affect each other—that's the way interests work!
While I was showing the boys a new doll, they were excitedly sharing their day on World of Warcraft and how they were killing off Alliance characters from a hidden vantage point that left their enemies baffled. They were having SO much fun with it, and we were all able to share the energy of our passions with each other.
Such a huge part of unschooling is the modeling. Do the parents have activities they participate in just because they enjoy it? Do the parents KNOW what their interests and passions are? Are they actively pursuing that which brings joy? I think there's a balance of meeting our children's needs and also having an interesting, full and bubbly life that shows them what an authentic life looks like.
If you have very young children, it's hard to imagine having any time...but it will come. In the mean time, interests can be adapted around those very young children in smaller doses. Those with older children are already in the position to freely share passionate pursuits together, without as many constraints on time.
I strongly believe that parenthood is not a threat to the creative processes, but a predecessor to our best and most authentic work. These beings we have channeled through ourselves and into this world have the capacity to bring out our greatest forms of expression as we nurture our own inner creative child alongside them.
"Imagination Tribe was developed out of a very intense desire for a community of creative souls that could help nourish me. I knew there had to be other women out there, that needed this form of support so I dove in and created a space online. We now have over 200 members and several art trades per month. All ages, all forms of expression and all levels (wherever you perceive yourself on the continuum) of artists are welcome to participate. The underlying theme of imagination tribe is about nourishing the creative genius within. It's a great place to facilitate healing.
Though there are many unschoolers on the list, it is open to anyone and everyone that feels a need for this type of support.
Some of our projects have included a circle journal, regular Artist Trading Card swaps, altered tins and funky bag trades. There's always something new and exciting to choose from, or interesting conversations to be join."
—Ren, on IT