My reflections after week 2 of an incredible 8-week online course titled: ‘Parenting as a Spiritual Practice – an Integral Evolutionary Approach to Parenting’. For more details of the course, please visit: http://integralparenting.com/ref/heather/
This week the course was focused on what an integral evolutionary context offers to parenting as spiritual practice. Firstly, exploring bringing awareness to our current context, then exploring the integral evolutionary context and finally, contemplating how we can relate within an expanded context.
Our context is made up of our beliefs, values, imprints and our views on life – it’s what we care about and how we make sense of life. When signing up for this course, it was with intention of shifting my current, habitual context to a more expanded version, in order to make a genuine difference in my daily life as a mother.
Taking the time to explore and listen deeply this week has been so powerful. When I was recently feeling torn (and incredibly overwhelmed) due to an unpleasant work situation, I chose to walk away from that job consciously in order to make the best possible choice, as Noah’s mother. I chose to risk the financial hit, the uncertainty, and the change and leave a project that I began and care deeply about, in order to embrace that my deepest, conscious priority in life right now, is our son Noah.
Reconfiguring my life from a more expanded view point is allowing me to step into more conscious parenting. By noticing that something needs to change, I am able to then pause, take a step back and question it, before reprioritising and consciously making new choices.
This week in the Parenting as a Spiritual Practice course, we were invited to consider the present context of our lives, through exploring our priorities. Becoming aware of my present context is the first step in aligning my life and my parenting, and to expand this content involves changing and reprioritising some of these values and beliefs, as well as noticing any gaps between my current context and how I might like this to be in the future.
In the present time assessment, I believe that my top priorities in this moment are: Noah, parenting as a spiritual practice and what I’m going to call ‘giving’. I asked my husband, Kevin to share his honest opinion about what he believes my priorities are right now too, without sharing my thoughts first. His response was: Noah, Reiki and friendship.
Bringing this awareness of my current context invites me to grow up, wake up and show up and put my practice into my parenting, with the understanding that the deeper embrace and awareness of the integral approach to parenting, has to be recognised alongside the deep commitment of ongoing growth and development that choosing this journey entails.
The honest answers that live within me during this reflective period, in relation to my current context, hugely affect what I strive for and care for and what I value, how I share my time, energy and how I parent. By acknowledging the current context, I can then make more conscious choices going forward.
“This realignment facilitates a deepening of the quality of our lives and those around us and it also helps us make more conscious choices about how we live our lives, how we relate to our children and what we model to them.” Miriam Mason Martineau
Considering context in this way has been a profound lesson this week. I was able to notice this in practice one evening, when Noah was wanting to breastfeed all night long and despite feeling stretched and completely sleep-deprived, I was able to step into a more expanded context and find the resources to remain engaged, conscious and gentle, even when my patience was running thin and exhaustion was truly overcoming my body.
When I step into this place of responsiveness, I am expanding my context and my relationship with Noah. In doing so, I increase my wholeness, my care, my compassion and ever-increasing consciousness in my parenting, by which I can begin to unfold the nature of possibility in these moments.
From this place, I can then see it from this whole, expanded viewpoint: a place where Noah can be fully seen, heard, related to, loved and recognised in his true, authentic (and cheeky) self.
For example, this week my husband said to me “we should have put locks on all the cupboards, I don’t remember the last time there wasn’t stuff all over the floor” as our son Noah was pulling containers, food, crockery (and anything he could get his little hands on) from each of the floor-level cupboards in the kitchen.
I smiled, and said to my husband, “but that’s the point, he’s a child; he has to explore, adventure, make a mess – and it’s fun.” I felt proud of my response and of our conversation that followed.
If I notice Noah doing something like this, sometimes I have to pause and find the gap between my impulse to react, and in this pause, I invite myself to breathe deeply before responding (rather than reacting).
When I do, I am able to become fully aware of how absorbed he is in his own exploration, in the discovery, and in the mess. Once I have paid attention to this, I am then in an expanded context – having been lifted out of my own personal bubble (which is thinking ‘ Arrgh, I’ve just cleaned this kitchen and tidied everything away and it took me this long…’) to thinking through a wider lens and seeing the bigger picture which is focused on the growth, discovery, learning, loving and creative expression of our beautiful 14 month old baby.
This week has also been a deeply reflective and emotive journey for me, as the course touched upon how we can be jolted into an expanded context when faced with death.
“When faced with death, we are suddenly faced with what really matters and we are reminded how at the end of the day it really matters so much more whether we bring presence, love and care to each moment and one another.”
Miriam Mason Martineau
Having recently lost both my grandmothers (the glue of our family) and still being with the grief and loss of this, I have become more aware of the difference of being jolted into an expanded context and the conscious choice of bringing expanded context into daily life.
This week I was encouraged to make time to look back to the past and to step forward into the present with awareness, freedom and consciousness. I enjoyed the metaphor used within the course of imagining a flower representing my current actions and choices, and then looking beyond the flower, following the roots in the ground to begin to unfold my underlying beliefs, values and imprints.
In order to understand my own software of assumptions, beliefs, ideas and ways of being a parent and views on childhood, I was invited to draw my family tree, with myself, Kevin and Noah at the bottom, my parents above, and grandparents above them, and to include aunties, uncles and other caregivers who were a significant part of my childhood and upbringing.
Beside each of these people I wrote down quotes that I remember them saying and key beliefs, values, and imprints that I was exposed to through them – good and bad – in order to reflect on what I want to shake loose from, what I want to transform and what I want to strengthen and build upon for our own family.
There are many things that my parents and grandparents done exceptionally well, but there is always room for growth and it’s my responsibility now, to become a more evolved parent. To do this, I need to dive into the past and untangle the ‘generational shadows’ that I want to acknowledge and let go of, knowing that “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”
“You may strive to be like them but seek not to make them like you, for life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.” Kahill Gibran
By renewing my own approach to parenting through this approach, it allows me to live in a way of parenting that is a first-hand, awakened adventure rather than a second-hand, habitual, hand-me-down version (in full awareness that I am not a victim of circumstance and that I have conscious choices to make).
So, what did this family tree reveal? From my mum’s side of the family, I want to continue to nurture the deep rooted belief that “babies are magic,” where even in the very last days of my Grandma’s life (in the hospice), the babies in the family were welcomed with loving embrace, and fully met as real human beings (despite how little they were). The babies are fully respected in the family system and this is something I will consciously carry forward.
I want to strengthen from the pride that my Grandma expressed openly, always celebrating small achievements (and big achievements) and sharing in this celebration. I want to strengthen from the gift of giving, of volunteering, of looking out for those in need and sharing with those less fortunate.
However, I want to shake loose from the need for recognition or for seeking approval and living within the social expectations or in fear of what others thought, I choose to free myself (and our family) from becoming hostage to conditioned reactions.
In my last full conversation with my Grandma, I asked her: “what lessons in your life, do you want your children and your grandchildren to learn from and carry with them throughout their lives?” Her response is was:
“I want them to learn good values like honesty, integrity and hard work. Be the best that you can be. Go for goals, achieve high and be focused. You can be anything you set your mind to if you want it enough. Opportunities sometimes only come once, take the risk! Have faith in yourself and believe in yourself. The legacy is to be the very best you can.”
“Be as happy as you can be in your marriage, with your husband and your baby. Love them with all your heart and all your soul. Work as one in a marriage to be happy. It’s all about compromising and listening, knowing when to stand for what your principles are, and sharing, you have to share! Remember that your parents are a part of you, and you of them, and your grandparents and great grandparents…”
The spirituality of my Grandma’s death and the clarity and wisdom she shared in our last moments together have touched the depth of my soul. Her legacy lives on in each of the 27 children that she has mothered, grandmothered and great-grandmothered.
From my dad’s side of the family, I want to continue nurturing the appreciation of the simple things in life, whether that is family time, island life, eating together or appreciating knowing your neighbours and having a sense community. And I want to shake loose from their beliefs on the ‘traditional’ role of women in the house and of things left unsaid, where there wasn’t always space to really express deep and heartfelt emotions.
From my own family growing up, my mum has always said, with heartfelt honesty that “parenting is the hardest job on the planet” and only now can I fully appreciate this. She has been committed to evolving herself, her parenting and her grandparenting and this dedication to the eternal journey of lifelong learning is a deep rooted belief that I choose to carry with me to support myself to grow up, show up and walk the talk.
My mum fully embodies patience. She is responsive rather than reactive, and I’ve still never heard her shout at me (though there is plenty time yet, Mum). She is fiercely protective and I remember her saying “don’t you dare speak to my daughter like that” if she didn’t appreciate the tone in how I was being spoken to.
Our family has and continues to be my dad’s number one priority in life and it comes above all else. I want to continue with the deep rooted belief that my dad showed us, where our best was always good enough and not to strive for perfection – knowing, that life is messy.
My dad makes a point of telling someone he loves that he loves them, every single day. I love this simple practice. He is man dedicated to loving his family and appreciating the simple things in life. I so value these traits.
I want to embrace the imprint that my own parents left me with, that families should be able to have deep and meaningful (and often challenging) conversations; and that we should create safe space for these conversations to happen (regularly) and that we should respect the voices in the family (whether you’re an introvert or extrovert – you’ve always got a voice).
What do I want to shake loose from though? I want to shake loose from focusing on what hasn’t been done and instead focus on what has been done; I want to refocus on the strengths of individuals, on their assets and capabilities and find more balance and resourcefulness when needing to communicate if my needs aren’t being met. I want to focus less on the material and more on how I invest my time and energy in my mothering. Because I know, that we remember the memories and the precious gift of time.
My awareness of my current context intimately influences how I parent. In order to begin to understand my current context (including my beliefs, values and imprints), I needed to take a step back and reflect on where these have come from and recognise how each of these influences how I show up as a parent.
It is only through expanding my context that I can make new choices, refocus my priorities and embody the integral evolutionary approach to parenting that I deeply believe in. My main refocus having reflected on my current context, is to find space in my priorities to nurture and nourish my relationship with Kevin, and to make more time for us as a family. How often do we forget to nurture the relationship with the person we consciously chose to create life with?
Parenting as a spiritual practice is not about reaching a state of perfection, it is about inviting myself to become more conscious, present, aware, and authentic in my parenting journey. It is about challenging myself and wondering how much I can stretch, how present I can become? And to wonder, how can I see each moment of engagement with Noah as a precious opportunity to be fully alive, fully aware, fully conscious and meet him with purpose, presence, and knowing that I am his compass? (Even when I am totally and utterly exhausted).
“Today you are you, that is true-er than true, there’s no-one alive that is you-er than you.” Dr Seuss
This commitment to eternal journeying means that I have to be ok with change and with standing at the edge of the unknown and wondering what’s next for me, and our family.
Through parenting as a spiritual practice, we are parenting in the right relationship to the past, with willing hands to do the conscious work in the present and with eager ears to co-design the future with our families.