Archive for September, 2010

September 22, 2010

Family Life from the Right Side of the Brain

Personal note- Today someone I love left the world, and unfortunately I am left wondering if any one of us *really* knew him or connected with him as his essential self.  Being *known* by someone is one of the greatest things we can experience in life, and I’d like to encourage everyone-  connect to your own truth, connect to your children for exactly who they are, and take the time to really see those you love, let them be known to you, and celebrate their unique being.  –  In sadness and love, Lesley

I don’t think I’m wrong in stating that most parents have, at one time or another, had questions about family life or parenting.  Of course, when we have these questions we look for answers by asking them of ourselves, or we ask our families and friends, or we ask the “experts”- or buy their books, anyway.  And many times, we don’t find the answers we seek.  This is because we are unique individuals.  Our children are unique individuals.   Our combination of unique adult individuals and unique smaller, less experienced individuals is in itself unique.  It’s also because, even if we were largely the same (and even with all that uniqueness, in some ways we are the same) there is no one right way for every family.  We can get advice from a variety of sources, but no individual family that is not yours has the answers that fit your family. 

 So, is there another way to approach this?  Yes.  There are thousands, millions, infinite ways to find answers to your questions.  Many of them come down to knowing your own family.  Knowing each individual family member and how he interacts with each other individual.  This all sounds very clinical, like you might sit down with an observation form and take notes, then take all these notes and sit and plan out what might work best.  I suppose you could, but then where is the joy?  This is where the right side of the brain comes in. 

 I think most of you probably have a general idea of what the whole right brain/ left brain thing is about.  It has been established that the left sides of our brains are largely responsible for logical thought, analysis, and orderly processing- the left brain tends to apply known concepts to the unknown in order to make sense of them.  The right sides of our brains are largely responsible for creative thought and making connections between seemingly unrelated information. The right brain takes things as they are and doesn’t so much worry about making sense of them.  While both sides of the brain work together in an integrated whole, we tend to think in an either dominantly left brained or right brained way.  Most people tend to be left brain dominant.  Whether this is human nature or it is related to our culture placing higher value on left brained thinking and action, I don’t know.  What I do know is that we can find new perspective on things by making a conscious choice to look at them from the right brained perspective. 

 So, how is this done?  There is a very commonly known art book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards, that outlines an approach to using the right brain to create more accurate drawings.  The premise is that when we draw something from our usual left brained perspective, we draw it from our preconceived notion and concept of what that thing looks like.  The example my 7th grade art teacher used (and perhaps this is directly from the book- I haven’t read it, or at least not recently or thoroughly) was a face.  When people go to draw a face they generally start with a circle, representing a head.  Then they fill in the facial features based on what their brains recall about faces- the eyes are near the top, the nose below them and in between, the mouth under the nose.  This usually results in what my art teacher called “a pumpkin head”.  It’s not a drawing of an actual face, but of our left brained concept of one.  The book goes on with various methods of circumventing this left brained dominance to clearly see what is in front of us and actually draw what we see instead of our left brain’s mental concept of the object we’re drawing.  We can use the same idea in looking at our children and our families.

 We often have mental constructs of what children should be like and what our family life should look like.  These left brained constructs are very visual and rules oriented, as well as being results oriented.  This is where most parenting advice comes from.  You want your children to grow up to be this way, so parent them this way.  This has never been satisfying to me because it tends to suck the soul out of our lives, our interactions, and to some degree, our selves and our children’s selves.  Remember that whole thing about unique human beings?  Our uniqueness is where our joy, our happiness, our brilliance and radiance come from.  To find what’s right for us, we can’t take ourselves out of the equation (and here I mean collectively as a family, however, much of my work at this time is related to keeping our own individual selves in our equations).  We can truly see the uniqueness, the radiance, the brilliance and the joy of those around us by taking a right brained observer perspective.

 To do this, find a time when your family is home and all doing what they do, whether together or separate.  I suggest you start by taking a few minutes to clear your mind.  I use a brief sort of meditation to do this, closing my eyes and seeing the emptiness behind them, focusing on my breath and feeling my full presence throughout my body.  This gets you out of left brain analysis mode and into a more feeling, non-analytical, place.  Then take a look at your children, your partner, yourself, and your lives together.  Pretend you’ve never met these people, they are total strangers, and look at them without analysis or judgment, as if you are entirely new to the world and have no concept of what people do and how they interact.  Simply see what is in front of you.  See facial expressions, body movement, watch and listen to interactions, see what they are doing and how they are responding physically and emotionally to what they are doing, or to what others are doing.  Who are these people?  Why are they doing what they are doing? Just let this view of your family as strangers sink in and try to hold off on analysis for a little while. 

 Once this view integrates into your mind a little bit, check in with yourself.  Were you surprised by what you saw?  Did you notice anything new that you hadn’t noticed before? Are there, just maybe, things you were seeing through a filter of your own thinking that aren’t at all what you thought they were?

 This is a practice that, once you become accustomed to it, allows you to step away from your usual preconceived notions.  It is a way of seeing, from your right brain, things you may have missed from your usual left brained approach. It can become incredibly useful in the moment. When a family member is struggling with something, and maybe this family member is yourself, you can often see that either the problem isn’t the whole problem, or that it is.  There are times when spilled milk is the culmination of a series of tiny or gargantuan personal disasters that has pushed one to their limit.  And there are other times when someone just really wanted a freakin’ glass of milk, and that glass was the last of the carton.  The right brained perspective can show you the difference, which allows you to see more clearly and find a helpful response.  Response creates connection, which can uplift everyone.

 Give it a try!

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September 16, 2010

The greatest thing our children give us

Spring 2010- blossom pathOne day a few weeks ago I had an amazing experience.  I hadn’t slept well- hadn’t done my usual pre-sleep writing, stayed up late, and had actually fallen asleep still wearing my jeans and underwire bra- and not even in my own bed, but in my older daughter’s as I read Alice In Wonderland to her.  Not my ideal rest circumstances.  I had a full load of thoughts in my head as well and clarity was not coming.  This is probably because I kept THINKING- stirring up those muddy waters, opening the door in the freezer aisle of my mind so that the view was obscured unless I either waited for it to clear or opened the door again.  So, naturally, I wasn’t getting what I’d call “quality rest”- after a night of disoriented half-waking and thinking periods, the sound of my husband getting ready for work in the morning woke me enough to get my eyes open.  I made the decision to go to the gym as scheduled, feeling both muddy and groggy.  As I headed to the shower after the gym, I noticed that  my younger daughter was sleeping in my bed- she had been in her own bed when I first got home and it was clear she had fallen asleep in much the same way I did (except for the jeans and the bra).  She was curled up in a corner of her bed surrounded by books and toys, with her lamp still on.  She must have wandered into my bed while I was outside watering plants.    

I love watching my kids sleep.  Don’t we all?  So I looked at my no-longer-tiny baby girl (she’s 6, far from *a* baby, but still *my* baby).  I saw her peace, her sleepy smile when I hugged her, and I decided that the best thing for me in that very moment would be to curl up next to her for a few minutes, to be in her peaceful presence and take a few minutes of hibernation.  So I did.  I curled up next to this warm sleeping happy little person, blissing out on the joy that is our lives.  Then it hit me.  Clarity.  Like a sudden burst of light, there it was.  And it was beautiful.  So I had to get up and write about it- because my life at this point in time is all about writing from that same place of peace and clarity and absolute love for my life, my family and for all the families out there finding their own way. 

But I also needed to write because this was, for me, a prime illustration of how our children can be our guides, our teachers, our gurus.  At that moment my youngest child was bodhisattva, an enlightened being able to transfer peace and joy simply by her existence and presence.  At this moment, as in all moments, she was truth (coincidentally, her name means “truth”).  As much as we lead our families as parents- through our actions and the tone we set (notice also that my girl’s sleep situation that night reflected my own), it’s also important to recognize when our children are leading us to better places and to accept that they are here to teach us about what we’ve forgotten.  As human adults we are experienced and fairly adept at the practicalities of life in ways newer humans often are not- we can walk and talk (some of us can even chew gum at the same time!), we can think and plan and rationalize and use logic.  All useful things.  But those newer humans?  They haven’t forgotten who they are, that they are whole, that they are an important part of the greater universe and the most important part of their own smaller universe.  They simply radiate this, at all times I think, but sometimes it’s harder for us to see from a place of limiting thoughts.  We feel it when they’re sleeping, though.  When we’re tired, distracted and lost in muddy thoughts, or just let our guard down we’re able to see and feel and experience this.  My goal is to see and feel this at all times, so that I can reflect it back to them in the moments they are overwhelmed in their thoughts- stomping, screaming in frustration, stuck in indecision, sad, impatient or bored.  Because this is what was given to me that morning- a reflection of the peace that is my own true self. 

September 9, 2010

The absolute greatest thing we have to offer our children

Believe it or not, I have a teenage son who will choose to hug me in public simply because he wants a hug from his mom.  (Don’t ask him to show this off – that will make him very uncomfortable- but watch us and you’ll see that it’s true).  As difficult as it is to say this without playing my personal copy of “Who Do You Think You Are? & Other Greatest Hits of Your Inner Critic”, I have to admit that I’m a pretty darned good mom.  I know this because my kids tell me so.  Regularly.  Without prompting and not necessarily because they want something.  They’re generally happy people and given the opportunity to radically change things in their lives (which they have at all times), they choose the life we live now. You’d think that I have this mom thing down.  That I live, every second of every day, knowing exactly the right thing to do and feeling that if every parent could just find what we have, do things the way we do them, that there would be peace in the world and we’d reach the apex of human potential (or some stuff like that).  Yeah, um, not quite.

 Honestly, I don’t think that it’s possible to never have doubt, to always do the exact right thing, or that there is one way for every parent in the world to create a life of joy, peace and love with their children.  In my actual experience, it takes intention.  It takes commitment.  It takes awareness.  It takes mistakes, lots of them.  It takes the actions of love.

 The shocking fact of the matter is that I have days when I find it difficult to actively love my children.  Don’t get me wrong, I always love them in the sense that everyone loves their own children.  I truly believe that all parents, along every part of the parenting spectrum, LOVE their children.  What I mean by saying “actively” love my child, is to love that child in the sense of seeing the needs at the root of this small, inexperienced person’s actions and addressing these needs regardless of behavior, and regardless of how inconvenient addressing these needs may be to me in the moment.  I mean that I’ve found it difficult to actively love my children in the sense of knowing that my children are often most in need when they are acting in ways that push my buttons- when they are whining or yelling or stomping, when they are breaking things or attempting to hurt others, and even when they are imploding and turning their anger and frustration inward, against themselves.  Yes, this is attachment parenting 101 stuff that I *know* to be true and that I’m not here to argue or defend.  There have been times I have failed miserably- by denying these truths, by being unwilling to inconvenience myself, by being unable to overcome the stuff that comes up when my buttons are pushed.  There are also times I have failed because I wasn’t paying attention, was refusing to listen to my intuition, or because I was not seeing my child clearly. 

 Mostly, the root of these failures comes down to one thing. 

 It is impossible to give something you don’t have for yourself. 

 My deepest goal as a parent is for my children to remain whole- to reach adulthood as fully themselves as they were the day they were born, as complete human beings who, at the time, were entirely dependent on me and highly lacking in skills and experience. It is inevitable that these complete human beings will become less dependent, that they will gain skills and experience as they go through life.  It is not inevitable that they lose their trust in themselves, their ability to love unconditionally, their connection with their own deepest joy, and their inner radiance and brilliance.

 For many years I *tried* to be the parent I choose to be.  I tried to trust in them and support their trust in themselves.  I tried to love them unconditionally, to be an example of unconditional love.  I tried to support their connection to their deepest joys.  And I watched as on many occasions, my own actions or words dimmed their inner radiance and I didn’t recognize their brilliance in each moment.  I say “tried” because the fact is that I didn’t trust myself.  I wasn’t able to love unconditionally because I never allowed myself to experience unconditional love.  I was disconnected from many of my own deepest joys, in spite of the fact that my children’s very existence is one of them.  And the fact is that my own inner radiance had become nearly unreachable and I couldn’t see any brilliance whatsoever. 

 Luckily, I have come back to myself.  It has been my own unique path, but it did take the intention to find my own happiness, to feel loved and supported, and to trust myself.  It has taken commitment to these intentions as well as choosing in each day and each moment to keep or renew these commitments.  It has taken awareness of when I am moving away from my intention or have gone to place I no longer want to be, so that I can renew my commitment at these times.  I make mistakes and keep making them, which is why that awareness is so important.  But most of all I am taking actions of love- treating myself like I have value, like my needs matter, and as if *I* am my most important resource in my being my children’s mom.  Because I am. 

 And so are you.

 As parents, having the clarity of knowing who we are is what allows us to, at times, set our other priorities aside to attend to the needs of our children.  It is also what allows us to work through the times when we don’t have an immediate solution to a challenge.  It allows us to look for the “and” instead of the “or” when it may appear as if our own needs and those of our children are in conflict.  And it allows us to see our children’s truth and brilliance and radiance even if they are struggling to do so, to support them in connecting with their deepest joy and to love them unconditionally.  Which is why I believe that the absolute greatest thing we can offer our children is to be our own unique whole selves, and from this perspective, be their unique whole loving parents.

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