Archive for ‘Children’

December 19, 2011

The Gift of Play

Bird whistles rockWhen was the last time you truly played? Did something fun simply for the enjoyment of it. No goals. No plans. No expectations. But also, active. Taking action without intention, simply for the amusement of that action, maybe to see what would happen. Did you play at all today?

Sometimes as we grow up, we forget how to play. Many times our children serve as reminders- however, what is play to children isn’t always satisfyingly playful to adults. Play dances at the edges of our developmental abilities. It can be enthralling to watch this and participate in this with children, at their level, but as ever growing and changing beings our edges like the dance as well.

Playing, in whatever form it takes for you, has many benefits- it reduces stress (which is well documented as a cause of many physical ailments), it increases our creativity, mental flexibility and focus. Play gives us energy. These are our edges as grown up people- the places where we are often challenged. Especially as parents. But do you know any adult who couldn’t use more energy, focus and creativity, and less stress? (You know, I do think I actually know a quite a few…and guess what? They play. Often.)

There is one caveat here. If we go into play time looking for benefits, we’ve turned it into something other than play. An assignment. A project. Something we do because it’s “good for us”. Yikes. I’ve noticed that I have a strong tendency to do this with my creative pursuits. Recently I began painting. My intention was to just have fun with it, and I painted an image that had been in my head for a while. It was fun. I did some more painting. Then I got ideas. I decided that I wanted to paint some more specific images. I wanted to use them for another project I’m working on. Can you guess what happened? I stopped painting. Somehow I didn’t feel the urge to pull the paints out again. I had turned my play into a chore. A project. Something that needed to be done. So much for the fun, energy, creativity and stress relief. But it’s also a fun juxtaposition. Play is only play when it’s done for it’s own sake. For fun. For the love of what you’re doing. Yep. Work can even be play.

So, how will you give yourself the gift of play? I will be pulling out my paints and a fresh canvas. No fixing that bizarre looking lizard. No grand attempts to paint that flame on the canvas I painted black, unless it feels like fun. Just me and some colors and some brushes and a blank canvas. Slap some paint down and see where it goes. But play can be anything- taking a walk down a different street, getting lost (literally or figuratively), making designs in the dirt (or your mashed potatoes), seeing what happens when….., making up a story about the people in the car ahead of you, jumping on the trampoline. Yes, it CAN be with your kids of course, they’re some of the best people to play with…. but give yourself permission to play without them as well!

Tell me how YOU are playing in the comments, or tell me what you’re doing about that ever so grown-up tendency to turn play into work. How are you turning work to play instead? And give others the gift of play (and good health, energy, focus, and creativity!) by sharing with the buttons below.

PS. If it’s the only way it will happen, schedule some time devoted to play. Pencil it in. Leave some time open for whatever strikes your fancy. Or, drop what you’re doing right now. Go play. I mean it. Go play!

December 13, 2011

The Gift of Nurture

This week’s gift is one that I know all of you amazing mamma’s out there give to others- generously, beautifully, wonderously- every single day of your existence. You are the goddesses of nurture. Holding your families in nearly every thought with love, concern, appreciation and understanding. Or at least that’s your intention and your touchstone- what you come back to even when life feels hectic, out of control, too much ….. and well, normal.

Nurture is also what we do. Giving hugs. Making meals. Showing our kids how- when they want to try something new or do what we can do. Patching up boo-boo’s with compassion, validation and a kiss. And being present with their heartaches… also, with compassion and validation. And knowing when a hug or a kiss won’t be helpful.

But we often do not nurture ourselves. We forget to do the things that make us feel loved and supported. We don’t keep ourselves in our loving, appreciative, understanding thoughts. Sure it feels wonderful to have someone else nurture you in some way- making a favorite meal, providing you with a clean bathtub and a warm towel, giving you a hug after you slip in the dog slobber on the tile floor and land hard- but we can provide ourselves with the same. (Okay, maybe not a hug, but a chance to rest or that hot bath after the last one…)

I challenge you to come up with a list of 3 ways you can nurture yourself this week, starting now. I have a friend who has filled a jar with pomegranate seeds, to be treasured at will. I like to do yoga or meditate outside. Or go to a beautiful natural spot and just breathe in the beauty. Take a walk, or a run. Just be alone. Nap. Borrow any of these, come up with your own and report back in the comments! For bonus points, tell me what you’ve appreciated about yourself today.

Know someone who could use the gift of nurture? Share the love using the links below….

November 21, 2011

I Refuse to Survive the Holidays

Every year around this time I start noticing the magazine articles, tv talk show blurbs, and even blog posts about “how to survive the holidays”. While I know these can be incredibly helpful when you don’t know how to deal with your rude Aunt Marge or have backed yourself into a corner by saying yes to every event invitation that comes your way- complete with requisite cooking and gifting tasks (“gifts must be handmade” says the invite- oh yes, that sounds cool- until you realize you need to not only figure out what you can make, but actually make it, by next week.)…. this year every one of these tips has me both laughing and groaning. Putting “the holidays” and “survival” in the same sentence brings up images of harried women on a remote island, trying to forage and craft a “lovely traditional holiday” while competing in immunity challenges and plotting votes to exile their tribe sisters. The idea of “surviving” the upcoming holidays just seems equally absurd to me.

I have survived the holidays. Worn out, sick, grumpy and making up ugly holiday stories about how I can never do enough and my efforts are always thwarted or aren’t appreciated. No more. I plan to CELEBRATE! I will grab hold of joy and wave it boldly through the streets. I will appreciate everything around me and be delighted. Small things. Big things. Giving in delight and doing what is fun. Survive the holidays? No thanks. I think I’ll have fun and celebrate instead.

How? By refusing to do things that don’t feel good and running with what does. I’ve ordered Thanksgiving dinner. On Black Friday, I might go out – not to shop- but to observe the absurdity of it all and smile at everyone I see. Funnier than reality tv. My kids and I will snip paper snowflakes and cover things in glitter. It will be ephemeral and euphoric (or not ;-D, then I’ll stop). Impromptu holiday movie parties, with appropriately themed snacks featuring the 4 food groups- candy, candy canes, candy corn and syrup. Because it’s fun. I’ll plan a day to wrap gifts, because I love creating beautiful packages, complete with holiday chick flicks. I will take my daughter to do her holiday shopping- she’s so excited to do it. Perhaps we’ll make a day of it. And that’s probably it. No pressure. No obligations. No trying to be Martha Stewart or Mrs. S. Claus or June Cleaver or Molly Weasley (I mean, the woman has a wand. No muggle should even attempt that one!) Likely I’ll strike several of these things from the list. And I’ll do it gleefully. And joyously. And while singing out whatever tune strikes my fancy… whether it’s Deck the Halls, Caught in a Mosh or Blah, Blah, Blah. Because I’m celebrating…. life and love and light and everything. And celebrating feels good. If not, it’s not celebration.

So, what about you? How will you ditch survival and celebrate?

Lesley

ps. Somehow I feel like I’m missing out on that whole plotting thing…. but hey, I bet I can find some kind of joyous plotting to do…. hmmm….

June 3, 2011

The Last-Minute Rock Star

At the moment I’m preparing for a road trip that will take me from SC to PA to NY and back again in the space of two weeks.  In my mind, someone who is truly great at this sort of thing would have a comprehensive checklist prepared, have a detailed to-do written (at least mentally) and would have had all the items that aren’t necessary to everyday life packed and ready to go by now- the minivan clean and maintained and ready to roll, home tasks that need completion before leaving nearly up to date and be ready to simply, calmly and joyfully put the stuff in the van and leave when the time comes.  Oh, and they’d definitely have the conference talk they’re giving in less than 2 weeks at least in a completed rough draft state.

My experience of this process is rarely anything like this.  Usually I experience a combination of procrastination and panic, with an underlying and continuous monologue of reprimands and reminders of how insufficient I am and how I’m doing it all wrong and how much of a loser I must be for not just doing the freaking stuff that needs doing, that culminates in me yelling at everyone to “just get the *&%$#! out of my way so I can get this stuff done and get at least a few hours sleep!” at about 11pm the night before we are planning a 5am departure.  Not an ideal situation, in my personal opinion- especially when I do not function well on less than 8 or 9 hours of sleep.  Any wonder last year’s incarnation of this trip had us all craning our necks along the highway to find a Starbucks? (when, of course, a green smoothie would be MUCH more of a help!)

So in the midst of my procrastination and panic this week I decided to do a little self-coaching on this subject.  In the process I remembered that I am a last minute person.  I function well doing things last minute and I rarely fall short of my own expectations no matter how much I’ve delayed and put off.  I recognized that what I dislike most about my usual pattern is not my last-minute nature, but the lack of trust I hold that I CAN do what’s needed in the time I have (I’m amazingly efficient when I’m motivated- a great illustration that tasks take as much time as we allow them!) and my lack of calm and peace in the process.  I don’t like being unkind to my family.  And I’m downright afraid of how unkind I can be to myself.  My “deer in the headlights” feelings of panic and inability to act are mostly about how much I’ll berate myself as I’m losing much needed sleep and yelling and then trying to fuel myself on sugar and caffeine.

I’ve decided that this year, I’ll prepare for our road trip in the usual way- acting as I feel the motivation.  Except this time, I’m choosing to trust in the fact that I always get it done.  I’m going to trust that I can do this calmly and without yelling at anyone, or mentally abusing myself.  I am going to invest in my well-being by saying no to others’ requests of my time and attention when they don’t align with my goal of a peaceful and calm packing process and departure.  Many of my children’s requests WILL align with this goal- they’re as excited about this trip as I am, maybe even more!  Some of them might not.  But I can feel good saying “yes, but not right now” knowing that we all benefit from peace and calm and trust that everything works out.  Ultimately, I’m going to step up and be a last-minute road trip rock star- flipping the bird at the reptilian voice in my head that is not really me, but an amalgamation of cultural expectations and past criticism that I’ve allowed to remain.  I’ll be kind and loving and roll on the wave of adrenaline I get when the time comes.  I’ll enjoy it.  I’m actually pretty great at this last minute stuff.  Time to own it.  Time to rock my last-minute capabilities and evolve them to a more peaceful and loving place.

So anyway, take what you can from this story and apply it to your own life.  Where do you berate yourself for being who you are, and what is the real problem with the situation?  How might a different thought change what you do and how you do it?  How can you be the rock star of who you are and bring it?

I’m off to do what I’m inspired to do today- just like I was inspired to write this post.  Rock on and let your stars shine!

Lesley

February 4, 2011

Immersed in life…

I suppose one could say that I’ve been neglecting my blogging duties, however what has been happening here is life.  Nothing more, nothing less. My word of the year is immerse, and as much as I enjoy spending hours writing, editing and posting (and writing, and writing, and writing some more) for the past few weeks I’ve been immersed in living.  Big, beautiful, satisfying, delicious life.  I’ve been snuggling with my kids, helping them figure out games, reading to them, and having all kinds of interesting discussions.  I’ve been spending whatever time I can with my husband- between our jobs time together has been limited, and we’re connecting more knowing that once he is settled in his new job he will be less preoccupied with work while at home.  I’ve been working.  I’ve been gardening- enjoying the feeling of being rooted to the earth with open skies above me.  I’ve been cooking and experimenting with my own recipes for vegetables and daydreaming about how I’ll use the ones from my gardens this summer.  And I’ve been coaching, being endlessly inspired by the amazing people my clients and friends are- and in awe of how universal our struggles are and how perfectly the work we’re all doing meshes together to create this tapestry that is living and being human. 

Life is full, and I’m soaking it in.  Today, as it’s very chilly and wet, I’ll build a fire that my family can gather around.   We’ll have pizza and smores- or roast hot dogs over the fire.  My girls will jump on the mini-trampoline I brought down from the attic this morning.  We’ll read some stories, watch something on the tv (who knows? something from the dvr, or a movie, or someone will play a Lego game or Ocarina of Time).  I’ll snuggle up with my nearly 11yo and we’ll hang out and talk and perhaps we’ll be spurred on to new adventures- as the old new adventures seem to have lost their appeal.  Perhaps we’ll study Japanese together and laugh at our attempts to speak it correctly.  Or string together nonsense sentences of words we learn because they’re fun to put together.

In other words, we’ll be living. 

Enjoy your weekend, everyone.  I know I will.

Lesley

January 21, 2011

Illusions

I’m recycling an old post of mine from an email list this week- edited slightly to make some kind of  sense separate from the conversation.  I’m just tired and decided that rest is my priority at the moment.  And I sort of like this piece of writing.  My apologies if you’ve seen it before, and many thanks to anyone I was paraphrasing in the original (much much love to my shiny peeps!).  Have a lovely, restful, joyful, wonderful week everyone!

For years I have been trying to find the way to truly feel and embrace and embody the kind of parent I have wanted to be.  But knowing something and living it are two very different things.  I struggled, I strived, I read, I thought- and I think I know what was missing through all of it.  *I* was missing.  I think a lot of Moms who are drawn to gentle, connected parenting are those who are “pleasers” by nature or circumstance.  We want everyone in our lives, particularly those we love, to be happy.  We want to support their happiness, we want to help fulfill their needs, but we forget that we also have needs and desires and sometimes want support for our own happiness. 

 In the mainstream this so often turns into a rigid “I need to have my needs met, to hell with yours” (and I have seen this approach taken on by parents who began with the intention to be kind, gentle, loving and connected and then burnt out because they’ve ignored their own needs for so long).  This is often aimed at children, particularly infants, but it permeates interactions with everyone in their lives.  I think for those of us who have chose NOT to take that route, it so often results in carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders.  Often this leads to a sort of under the radar blaming energy- the martyr role- which creates a repeating cycle.

 It really was only in the past few years that I realized that it is not my job, or purpose in life, to make the people I love happy.  As it’s quite literally impossible to MAKE someone happy- happiness is entirely an inside job.  This puts pressure on everyone.  (if my job is to make you happy, your job is to be happy, NOW DO YOUR JOB!) Then it becomes a blame/guilt/shame cycle.  I have finally learned that to support and uplift and be there for those I love does not mean “make them happy”- and I think many moms in this cycle misinterpret the idea of connected, supportive parenting in this way. 

 To support and uplift and be there for those I love means I create a foundation.  I am strong and clear and loving and kind.  And to do that, I need to make sure MY needs are met.  Back to what I said before- this does not mean “I have needs, screw yours”- it means that to be of any use to anyone, to be able to serve our children and the world in the best way we can (which does not mean “making them happy”) we need to be well cared for- and we need to do this ourselves. 

 We need to be happy and be gentle with ourselves, get enough sleep and physical activity and nourishment (both the physical and dare I say “spiritual” kind).  We need to nurture our own connection to our wise selves- not to the exclusion of others, but to the benefit of others.  The love we send out to the world is diminished if we are not already saturated in it ourselves- self-love, self-care.  It’s like the concrete that creates a strong foundation for a building- it allows us to then support and uplift those we choose to carry with us. 

 Maybe those of us who are strongly left brained are more prone to this – not automatically connecting these things, because they exist in the more feeling realm? (I consider myself strongly integrated brain-wise- but usually my initial processing, my default processing is left brained- logical and linear)  We carry the weight (sometimes quite literally- or at least in my case- and I think there’s a huge connection between these revelations and the healing path I am on now- I am both literally and figuratively letting go of the weight that’s holding me down *updated note- I did begin a personal wellness journal blog this week, which can be found here)- and it’s not something you can learn, I think, from a “thinking place”- it’s a “feeling place” thing. 

 And it does come down to honoring and accepting, recognizing and feeling what you are feeling- walking away from those mental constructs we create because we’re so AFRAID of what those feelings might do to us- that they might be too much.  I used to think I was flawed because I couldn’t just “get over it”.  And that’s pretty much the opposite of validation.  Not validating our own feelings makes it awfully challenging, if not impossible to validate anyone else’s.  And when you’re busy trying to “get over it” the kids’ joy and silliness can’t even reach you- the self-invalidation is like an invisible wall- like an awful version of casting a “protego” charm around yourself and living inside it- separated from everyone and everything else by an invisible force field.  Sure, nothing can hurt you, but nothing can touch you either. 

 I’ve known for a while I was one of those people- one of the “try-ers”- but have been at a loss how to get out from under that cloud, that weight, the burden of Atlas- which is something like “Hey, I’m barely avoiding being crushed over here- I’m okay with it, really- I’m smiling- but please don’t be unhappy because then this will actually crush me as I try to help you”.  I’ve had to make a significant investment in myself- to heal, to trust, to rest, to feel.  And hey, it turns out that the world I was carrying around- it was a movie prop- an illusion- it was pretty darned heavy, but I was never actually in danger of being crushed- just seemed that way.

p.s. can you find the teenager in the photo? 

December 3, 2010

Joy: the most important ingredient

This week I’d like to send you over to my friend Scott Noelle’s website to read his Thanksgiving message (then come back!).  It was particularly timely for me last week, as I spent a part of Thanksgiving day feeling anything but thankful.  My 10yo was screaming, my 6yo was attempting to create havoc in response, my 15yo walked in and began making snarky commentary, my dh was cleaning violently, and I was thinking (among other things that I’d rather not mention) that I’d be lucky to ever get around to cooking the meal that I didn’t really want to cook in the first place.  Glad I didn’t invite you to dinner?  Indeed, life here is not always sunshine, unicorns and rainbows.  However, by the end of the day all was well.  We had a pretty nice Thanksgiving.  I hope those of you who celebrated Thanksgiving had one that was just as nice, though perhaps with a bit less drama.

 Here in the U.S., we’ve officially kicked off the winter holiday season.  Some people enjoy this time, others don’t, but it seems to me that being overstressed, overbooked, overindulged and overwhelmed from late November into the New Year is almost a cliché.  We have fond memories of holidays past when we were happy and relaxed, joyfully anticipating visiting with people we love, eating delicious foods, giving and receiving surprises from one another.  Then we do everything we can to try to recreate these past experiences.  Sometimes it even works!  But the efforts involved also seem to create the stress, full schedules, poor self-care and overwhelm.  It’s like we’re caught in a system of intermittent positive reinforcement- continuing to do things we don’t enjoy out of hope that we’ll have moments we do enjoy.  Kind of crazy isn’t it?

 So, this year I’ve decided that I want to live an actual season of joy.  You can join me if you like.  Every tradition, commitment, or obligation I come across as I move through the next month will be evaluated with the following questions-

 Do I want to do this? Why?

 Last Thursday, I didn’t much feel like making a Thanksgiving dinner.  I had it planned.  I had all the food here in the kitchen.  But I was feeling pretty burnt out on cooking in general and with tensions running high the last thing I thought I wanted to do was make an elaborate meal.  And around here, more than a main dish and a side dish is an elaborate meal.  But I’ve learned from some incredibly wise people that I have the ability to change my attitude about a situation, and that my attitude generally sets the tone for my entire family.  So, I retreated to my bedroom and began to examine my feelings about everything that was happening and my contributions to the stress. 

 I’m going to step aside here to mention this is not a “blame myself” moment.  I am very aware that I am not responsible for the feelings or actions of my family members.  I also know that blaming is not transformative.  Blame, whether aimed at yourself or others, keeps things stuck right where they are.  I also know that there is nothing I can change except what is within myself, and know that when I take responsibility for my contributions to a situation- my confrontational statements to my husband and my lack of willingness to stop and listen to my older daughter’s frustration and my younger daughter’s distress- I can look at whatever painful thoughts fueled those actions and decide whether or not those thoughts are serving me.

 In my examination of my thoughts,  I eventually came back to “Do I want to do this?” and “Why?”.  After considering for a bit, I decided that since we needed to eat *something*, and this meal was planned and required fairly little preparation (comparative to a usual Turkey Day feast) that I actually wanted to go ahead and cook it.  I truly had been looking forward to the meal.  I also realized that mostly I was doing this big meal because it is TRADITIONAL and something I’ve enjoyed in the past.  But the fact is, I’ve never actually enjoyed preparing a large meal alone- what I’ve enjoyed is preparing a delicious dish or two (usually in advance) and spending a day in the company of people I love.  Frantically cleaning in order to be able to cook a meal I wasn’t truly interested in cooking was separating me from the loved ones who were right here in my home and I was preventing myself from connecting with them in a meaningful way because I was focused on “having a nice Thanksgiving”- which in reality was just the outward trappings of our usual traditions. 

 To wrap up what turns into a very boring story- I made dinner.  My husband made the mashed potatoes.  My 6yo got very excited about the meal and decided to set the table.  We ended the day with pie, courtesy of Mrs. Smith and Marie Callender, and laughter.  I ended up feeling love and gratitude for my family, and for the knowledge that joy is the most important ingredient in any holiday. 

 So, as we move into the December holiday season I am not dreading any activity that is to come- but I know that if I find myself in a place of dread I am free to decide- “Do I want to do this?”  And ask myself “Why?”.

 And next Thanksgiving, I might just make reservations.

 Feel free to add your experiences in the comments! 

 Joyfully yours,

Lesley

October 8, 2010

A bit about living the family life you want…

I’ve been experiencing some interesting shifts in my life over the past few weeks.  I’ve taken on a couple of new roles- my first job in 11 years (seriously) and beginning the Martha Beck Life Coach Training program.  The job is simply the result of leaving nursing school and realizing that I’m going to have to pay my student loans soon.  I work in a bookstore and it’s kind of fun and I get a good discount.  It’s a total “kid in a candy store” experience.  Coach training? I’m not sure I can entirely explain that bit of brilliant insanity.  Or at least the story is too long, but regardless of explanation, I *LOVE* it.  I can officially call myself a Martha Beck Coach in Training.  And it officially feels really funny to do that.  I will be looking for guinea pigs  clients soon and will be offering some free coaching, so keep your eyes out for an announcement.  I’ve found life coaching to be a very powerful transformative tool- transformative in the sense that one’s deepest self is honored and given voice.  Moving on…

 Maybe it’s the effect of reading all of Martha Beck’s coaching books in quick succession, or immersing myself in the training materials and classes, or that my life and entire extended family has been shaken soundly by the loss of a much loved family member, or that I’ve taken a job with varying hours so that I need to be more fluid with my regular schedule of activities (or, or, or…AND?)- but I’ve been experiencing the sort of soul deep tiredness I can only recall feeling during early pregnancy.  No, I’m definitely not growing a baby.  But I think I’m growing something new.  New awareness, new connectedness, new possibilities.  It is this soul deep tiredness that resulted in the lack of a post last week- and why this post is not going to be my usual planned,  thought out, and edited until I can live with it sort of thing. 

 What I want to write about in this moment is the power of simply showing up and doing what needs to be done.  Doing the things that ultimately create the life you want, even when in the moment you are feeling utter exhaustion, mild aversion, or even stark indifference, is one way to honor your self and your intentions.  Right now it’s tempting to go back to bed, even though it’s 1pm and I have to go to work in a few hours.  But it is also my strong intention to write and I haven’t done much writing in the past 2 weeks.  It is time to get back to it (says my essential self), so here I am.  Not doing it well, but I’m doing it.  I’m respecting my intention and giving myself the opportunity to be who I want to be. 

 So, how else can I apply this to my life?  And how can you apply this to your own?  And where does this fit in with living among others, and particularly living with our children?  For me this starts with my intention- who I want to be, the life I want to live, and how I want to feel.  Personally I have some strong intentions when it comes to how I live with my family.  I intend to have deep connections, to be supportive and loving, and to embrace every member of my family for exactly who they are.  The thing is, I can intend these ideals as much as I like, however if I do not follow through with the actions that embody these intentions, I’m not likely to have the experience that I intend.  The exact specific actions to live these intentions may sometimes be unclear- as five distinct individuals, each member of my family connects in a different way and feels supported and loved in different ways- but there are some general, across the boards ways of learning about one another.  The ones that are coming to mind at the moment are receptive listening, open ended questions, and simply doing things together. 

 I’ll be bluntly honest and admit that I don’t always feel up to doing things together and that when I’m tired I’m exceptionally challenged in the area of listening or even tolerating sound of any kind.  It’s a sensory issue- when I’m tired any auditory stimulation bores into my brain like a drill.  I’m breathing deeply right now as my daughter is in the next room humming loudly.  I value her free expression and I’m perfectly free to grab a pair of earplugs or shut the door.  I’m choosing to enjoy her enthusiasm.  My head is buzzing, but I feel wonderful in that I’m living my intention- I am embracing her bigness and her noisiness as she feels happy.  Wait a minute- I want to go give her a hug.  Okay, done. Are there other ways I could respect both her expression and my own limitations?  Sure there are.  But at this moment I’m choosing my intention over my momentary desire to close the door, climb in bed and put a pillow over my head.  At other times I might simply let the kids know I need a nap and take one.  But at this moment I’m also following my intention by continuing to write. 

 Earlier this week, I was feeling the same way and the kids wanted to play some games.  We played.  We talked about strategy and problem solving as these ideas came up.  We moved on to other games and watched a movie together- which got us talking about history and communication and how people interact.  I was tired, but I was also living my intention.  We connected deeply and I got to know who my children are at this point in  time.  It changes, flows and shifts so frequently.  I supported their desire to connect and do some fun activities.  Am I sorry I didn’t get more sleep?  No, not at all.  I was relaxed and fairly at rest the whole time.  It was good for me- by connecting with my children and connecting with my intention for our lives together I also connected to my own essential self. 

 I’m not going to clean this up and end it neatly, or even really edit it at all (if you hadn’t already guessed by the very unpolished title)…. I’ll just ask a couple questions.  Where are you, today, in this moment, choosing a momentary desire over a deeper intention?  And how might your life be different if you chose to live your intention instead?

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!

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. 

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