Thursday, February 27, 2014

Practicing for More Self Awareness

What happens when you get to the ‘end of you rope?’ When your ‘buttons’ are pressed? When stress levels rise up? When you are ‘triggered?’

For most of us, what happens is that our reaction patterns kick in. These patterns are strategies we developed as young children in response to the stress of not getting what we wanted when we wanted it. And these patterns are imbedded in us as early as our first year. 

Some people name these patterns ‘the double.’ Or ‘the shadow.’ Whatever name you use, it is describing the situation when you are not truly conscious and old habits are ‘operating you’ and determining what you say and do.

Where do these patterns come from? They come from the example of our immediate family, mostly mom and dad, when we were very young. For the young child, all learning is through imitation, and we parents are giving the children plenty to imitate. They copy how we move, how we walk. They learn to speak by copying our speech. They learn how to deal with stress by copying our reaction patterns, what we do when we are ‘triggered.’ They learn what we are happy for them to take up, and they learn the things we do in their presence that we wish we did not do.

So when I reach the end of my rope with young children, I try and remember how imitation functions, and ask myself, “How would I want my child to respond in this situation.” Being aware of my responsibility to the human development of my child can help me reign in my reaction patterns. As the saying goes, ‘we must be the change we want to see.’ 

Did you ever see your child drop something, and then hear her say, “Sh#@t!” 
As the parent, we have options about how we can respond. We can get angry, and scold, and explain why we don’t use that word and on and on. Or we can understand that our child heard someone use that word, perhaps when they dropped the bag of groceries, and quite possible it was us they heard. The child is simply imitating. Remember, that is how they learn.

An important part of changing a habit is being aware of the habit in the first place. A wonderful tool for developing self-awareness is a seemingly simple exercise described by Rudolf Steiner 100 years ago. It involves looking back over the day. You practice this each night before going to sleep. One way to practice is to sit in a chair (lying down may quickly bring on sleep) and close your eyes. Picture to yourself an image of you sitting in the chair. And then for the next five minutes, go backwards through your day, starting with the moment just before sitting in the chair, and going backwards through the day until first awakening that morning. Steiner suggested that one could do this in about five minutes. It is a quick review, just a brief glance at the various events of the day. 

This exercise provides an opportunity to observe yourself, and discover your ‘trigger points.’ In going backwards, you might notice a moment when you are all worked up about something, and slowly go back a bit until you notice the moment when your ‘button was pushed.’ 

Remember it is called a practice. When we practice something we realize we are trying to improve at it, we are not already perfect at it. This is NOT an exercise in self-judgment. It is a way to discover your own patterns of reaction. Perhaps after observing the same pattern time and again in the nightly review, you might have a spark of awareness in the midst of a situation when you are about to react habitually. “Oh, here I am in a situation where I usually get triggered. How do I want to respond this time?” It might be fleeting, but eventually lasting awareness of your soul habit is created and therefore an opportunity for changing those habits arises. First you see your habits, then you have the possibility of changing them. 

Look again and again at yourself with honesty in this daily practice. Try to find your trigger points, to know yourself better and better, and see the patterns of reacting, your personal ‘buttons.’ This exercise also can allow us to develop compassion and kindness for our shortcomings. Can I feel tenderness and compassion for the very faults and weaknesses that I am struggling with?

Our attempting to better ourselves has significant impact on our child. Striving for self-development is worth imitating. The activity of the adult trying to develop new capacities penetrates deeply into the developing child and can bear fruit much later in life. These are qualities I want to develop further in myself and am actively engaging my will on this path. Indeed it is a path of development for the human being who is striving toward consciousness. 
This week was the birthday of Dr. Rudolf Steiner (pictured above as a young child). He was born 153 years ago in February, 1861, and he died at 64 in 1925. In honor of his birthday, I want to express gratitude for the many suggestions of exercises to help develop our own capacities for independent thinking and freedom from reaction patterns, as well as his many ideas about human development that are available in the many books and published lectures that we can read today. Thank you Dr. Steiner, I know you are out there helping us still!

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

I Want To Wear My Tutu!

I want to tell you a real life story. (The names were changed to preserve anonymity.) The result of which led Grandma to look at me in awe, and say, “You did it again. You are magic with children.” 

I don’t think it is magic. I think it is understanding the development of young children and embracing my role of ‘adult.’

One cold winter morning a few weeks ago, 2 year old Jill was wearing her frilly tutu and playing in the kitchen. 5 year-old Jack was getting ready to go with me to the park. Jill said she wanted to go too. Auntie said, “Take off your tutu so you can get your coat on.” Jill said she wanted to wear the tutu. Jill can be very stubborn and sometimes screams and yells (very loudly) as an often successful strategy to get what she wants.

Her grandma was in the kitchen and I could sense her lack of certainty as she said, “Let’s take off the tutu and put on the coat. Okay, Jill?” I could tell that she was tentative and was not going to be firm. She was going to let Jill decide whether or not to take off the tutu and wear the coat. Grandma later confirmed to me that she was not committed to the idea.

Auntie was also in the kitchen. She began explaining to 2-year-old Jill why she should take off the tutu (“It might get dirty, it would get in the way of playing at the playground, it might get ripped, your coat won’t fit with the tutu under it...”) and wear the coat (“It is cold, it is winter, you’ll be cold...”). Auntie was trying to convince Jill why it was a good idea to take off the tutu and wear the coat.

Jill said several times,“No,” she would not take off the tutu, as both Auntie and Grandma continued to talk to her and got closer and closer to her. I was watching this dynamic interaction of the three and saw Jill shaking her head, and her unwillingness so visible in her face. I was inwardly clear that taking off the tutu and wearing the coat was important. So I said, “Jack and Steve are going. Anyone who is coming has to take off their tutu and put on a coat.” Without hesitation, Jill took off the tutu and I helped her get her coat on. And off we went. Two happy children and me, ready to walk to the park.

So what happened? Jill responded calmly and easily when she heard the firm boundary - to go to the park requires no tutu and yes coat. No negotiating or wiggle room. So she relaxed and went along.

The words I spoke did not create a Steve vs. Jill situation in my choice of words. I didn’t say, “Jill, you have to take of your tutu to come with us.” I said, “Anyone who is coming...” It was not ‘me’ vs. ‘you’ for Jill. My words made the situation more objective, and less personal.

Also, explaining and trying to convince a 2-year-old is not effective for various reasons. One reason is the desire of the child takes up the whole thought and feeling world for them. Persuasion does not have a place at their table. Also, the child’s neurology is not sufficiently developed to process logic and reasoning. The frontal lobe doesn’t begin to develop for 10 more years. The adult’s intellectual approach of explanation does not meet in the child a neural structure suitable for processing the information.

When we are not clear in what we know is best for the child, when we lack inner confidence, the child senses this. And this is experienced as insecurity for the child. They need our calm and confident guidance and leadership. Of course we don’t know everything and are constantly learning. And hopefully we are observing the results of our choices and decisions as far as how the child is affected. This informs our future choices and decisions for the child. But it important to remember who is the adult. As an adult there are more neurological structures in place, more neural pathways, and many years of more experiences to draw from. 

Somewhere there is a middle ground between authoritarian parenting and a parenting style where the child is in charge. This is where the magic lives. This middle path my friend Margret Meyerkort calls ‘loving firmness.’ The young child needs our calm and clear and non-intellectual guidance that takes into account their stage of development, and well as their needs for safety and fun. 

I’d love to hear from you what you think of this post, and what YOU are struggling with so future blog posts can reflect what you are working on.

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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Why Chamakanda?

Some folks have asked, “Why Chamakanda?” "What is that name, where does it come from?" So I’ll tell you the story.

A long time back I listened to a cd by Ephat Mujuru, the late Zimbabwean musician. It included the story of Chamakanda and was accompanied by Ephat on mbira. 

The story of Chamakanda touched me somehow, and I learned it to be able to tell the children in my kindergarten. Several years later in the summer, a band named Mawungira Enharira, some new friends from Zimbabwe, were touring the US, and we were hanging out after one of their shows in Ashland, Oregon. I asked if any of them would tell a story from back home, and they claimed not to know any. So I said, “You must know the story of Chamakanda? It’s from Zimbabwe.” They said they didn’t know the story, and cajoled me to tell it to them. Sheepishly I did, and from then on I have been known as Chamakanda in certain circles.

Click on this link to download my version of the story for free. (It is also available on my cd Chamakanda Tells Stories.) The music is by Mbira dzeMuninga.  Chamakanda the story

And by the way,  my ears are not exceptionally “big, big like a donkey’s ears” as they are for Chamakanda in the story.

I think of folk tales, or ‘fairy tales,’ as a portrayal of the variety af aspects in all of us. Each of us contains all of the characters within us, a la Karl Jung. I have thought about this story a lot, and while dissecting a story seems harsh, here are some themes I have come to about Chamakanda, a humorous story from the Shona people of Zimbabwe. 

Chamakanda is a man who is a friend to the children. He lives alone and spends his days singing and dancing and playing with children.

One of the children is curious because Chamakanda never takes off his hat. He wonders what Chamakanda is hiding. Chamakanda eventually agrees to show the boy but sternly tells him, “You must never tell anyone what is under my hat.”

The boy is a Simpleton-like character, innocent but simple. Not intentionally, the boy does not keep his promise and the secret of what is under Chamakanda’s hat is revealed until eventually everyone knows.

Chamakanda does not want others to know that his ears are “ big, big like a donkey’s ears.” He cannot accept himself as he is and wants to keep aspects of himself hidden. He will not let himself be vulnerable and let others see his true self out of a fear of how they will respond. 

When the community around him learns of his formerly hidden aspect, he decides he must move on to a new community where he can start again without the new community having knowledge of his big ears. Until Chamakanda can accept himself, his whole self, he will continue to wander the world. No community can truly accept him until he accepts himself. To evolve he must accept himself and be vulnerable. Only then will he be an adult, able to relate to the children as well as adults.

Sounds like the story for all of us, just right for this modern time!