Working With Observation Through Imagination

Three Doorways into the Human Being

Three Doorways into the Human Being

Many of you reading this have taken classes with me before and so have heard me speak about working out of observation with your child.  The reason working out of observation is important is because, when we come into the present moment with our children we can see what is happening instead of what we think is happening.  This is really important because we will never be able to effectively work with our children if we don’t work out of clarity of what the situation really is.  Now you will know that you are not working out of observation if you feel: panicked, stressed, sad, hurried, tired, or confused.  If you feel any of these dissatisfying feelings that means that you are not sure what is going on or how you should act in the situation.  When you begin to work out of observation and your child starts to loose it in any manner of ways you will know that you are working out of observation when you stay calm and interested in what is going on. 

Now you might say: Okay Kyle, I’m working out of observation.  I am present with my child.  I feel calm and interested, but I still don’t know what to do in the moment when my child is inconsolable.

A lot of the time, if we are in the moment with the child, the moment itself will show us what to do.  It will become obvious to us that our child needs to eat, or is tired and needs to go home, or has been inside too long and needs to go outside, or just needs to be held by a calm grown-up who is able to regulate their own energy.  The more that you have a daily rhythm that you and your child can count on the less mysterious the day to day upsets will be.  Time and space hold us and our children. The more we can count on the unfolding of the day in rhythmic timing and the more the space is an environment we can negotiate well and our child can self-initiate into the better off we will be.  

Let’s say that you have all this down.  You have a rhythm that you know is good.  You have a space that you have been really conscious about.  You and your child move well in the space. She can put her own shoes away neatly and she can tidy up toys at the end of the day because there aren’t too many and it is clear where they live when not in use.   Still really dissatisfying moments are happening daily.  Then what?  

99% of unsatisfying behavior happens because poor habits have been cultivated without you even knowing that it has been happening.  This happens mostly because hardly anyone has any framework of human development from which to work from with their children.  It is important that we begin to gain an understanding of where our children are in their development because then we can create rightful expectations for them. 

A lot of the time we give our children too many choices.  We do this out of our good intentions.  We want to respect their dignity as a human being and so we give them choices: 

Do you want something to eat? Do you want cheese? 

What do you want to drink?

Are you ready to go?

To be able to make a choice requires the faculty of judgement.  Which is a capacity that has not been born in them yet.  The capacity for judgement can only begin to develop once the human being has experienced themselves as an individual in relationship to the world and this is not the place we find the young child in developmentally.  The young child can surely demonstrate personal preferences and this can create the appearance of judgement.  However, a true experience of judgement requires that the human being must be conscious of self in a way the young child is not.

Ultimately, by offering choices, we as parents, create situations that will result in us behaving with our children in a way that contradicts our desire to respect their dignity as human beings.  We have created a habit life with them where they are asked their opinion and they become used to this dynamic.   Inevitably, we will find ourselves in circumstances that necessitate our child do something because it needs to be done - we need to go pick Mamma up at the airport and the child doesn’t want to get into the car seat.   Our child might start to object because their preference is not being honored.   Then we find ourselves in a position where we are bargaining with them emotionally or forcing them physically.   Children are not rational.  They do not have the capacity to be self-aware enough to understand these situations cognitively and then have enough self-awareness to be able to put their preferences aside because the situation calls for that capacity.  That is a skill set that only an adult can meet developmentally.  

If we constantly ask our children what they think, what they want or if they are ready instead of deciding what needs to happen and proceeding with our child from a place of certainly then this habit will allow children to develop in a way that they will be unable to perceive or receive boundaries from ourselves, other grownups, or their peers.

Our children are in a primary relationship with their bodies.  They are developing a relationship with their physical bodies and their environment.  There are three doorways into the human being- physical/doing life, emotional/feeling life and thinking life.   During early childhood, we as adults, always want to take the doorway through the child’s physical/doing life.  This can seem confusing to adults because of course children have feelings and thoughts.  Children demonstrate this to us all the time and we as adults are more comfortable working through the doorways into the human being via feelings or thoughts, because this is how we relate to other grownups.  The reason this will be an unsatisfying way of working with the young child is, the young child does not have is a self-conscious relationship to these other doorways yet.   

What does it mean to work with our child’s physical/doing life?  First of all we need to begin to cultivate confidence in our own perception and judgment when it comes to making decisions for our child.  For example, if you know it is cold outside and your child needs a coat then offer the coat to them and say: We are going outside now. Time to put on our coats.  Developing new language with your child is essential.  It will take practice to do this if you have been in the habit of asking questions.  If your child objects because they don’t want to put on the coat, now it is time to work through an imaginative picture.  The imaginative picture  will help your child with the movement of their bodies.  The imaginative picture helps your child self-initiate into what needs to happen.  Offer your child her coat - hold it out and say: Dive into the ocean. These two images are there side by side, diving into the ocean and diving into the coat sleeve.  This is something your child feels and understands deeply with their body.  Through this relationship with their body and through the movement of the imaginative picture they can move into putting on their coat.  

What does it mean to work out of imagination in relationship to our children?  First, we need to understand what working out of imagination means.   Using Imagination means that you are working out of living pictures that are in relationship to what actually is happening in the moment and what your child is actually capable of doing.  If you are putting on socks, that is what is happening, and saying: Let’s put those pigs in a blanket is using an imaginative picture that your child can use so they can initiate into the activity.

These are three cognitive steps in this process: 

What is happening?- observation

What can happen?- developmental understanding of the situation

What is the picture that can cause forward movement?- imagination


Optimally you are working out of what I would call an alternating current between observation and imagination.  Knowledge of human development is the fulcrum point between the two. This leads to forming right expectation for our children.  Your observation of your child is what will guarantee that your child’s dignity is protected.  When you work out of observation you are not forcing your will on the child.  Instead you are creating expectations that you know your child can accomplish.  Children know from birth when an adult is creating appropriate forms into which they can self-initiate.   Imagination means that you are in relationship to your child’s doing. 

All of this takes practice. Its best to give this practice your full love and attention.  And, take it easy on yourself because this work takes the kind of practice athletes devote to their sports.  You have to be all in.  Muscle and stamina have to be built for this kind of work.  Accept where you are, practice, and know you will get better with practice.



Nothing Needs to Happen

Be still and find Love

Be still and find Love

When I was a child, the four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas were always a peaceful time.  My family did not attend Christmas parties, until Christmas Eve.  We didn’t decorate our house or put up our tree until nearly Christmas Day.  Christmas and its festivities for our family began Christmas Day and we celebrated and kept our tree up through the 12 days of Christmas.  My father is an Episcopal priest and so instead of a busy time of shopping and decorating, I mostly remember our house being undecorated and different from what was happening “in the world”.  For everyone else, it seemed after Christmas Day, the party was over just when ours was getting started.

For me, it became the season of: Nothing Needs to Happen- at least externally.  And,it was strange in a way because, everything in our North Carolina town was decorated, I danced in the Nutcracker, everything in the common culture was busy, and back at my house - nothing.  There was a tension living between the world and home.   Despite the glitzy Christmas decorations all arounds us, I saw my parents light the advent wreath each week. My mom had made for me a homemade Advent Calendar that had little cross stitched ornaments that you hung on a felt Christmas Tree- the only sign in our house that Christmas was on the horizon. This were our December traditions. It was what we did every year.   A certain mood was cultivated by this inwardness of preparation for the birth of Christ. It was a quiet beautiful time and it was also a time I felt a great sadness in the world, even as a child. It was a mood I lived in. Sort of like taking a bath. It was all around me and because it was normal to me I couldn’t have described in then. Only in reflecting upon this yearly experience am I able to now put it into words.

Now in my adult life, I am so super grateful that I lived this over and over again each year.   My parents never really talked about it except to say that it was important to celebrate Advent and not rush to Christmas.  There was no moralistic judgement about how we were right and the rest of the world was wrong it was just what we did in our house and that was that.  For me, what happened as a result is, this time of year, that can feel crazy for parents and children, both getting out of sorts with the parties, extra sweets, and continuous building excitement for four weeks, just wasn’t an indigestible time of year for me.  I remember it being a peaceful time of year that had a quiet beauty of its own while I waited for something majestic.

I think this time of year -Thanksgiving to Christmas can be a difficult time for many people for lots of different reasons- Christians and non-Christians alike. There is a mood of sadness at this time of year, even with all the hype and glitter you can’t really cover it up. Outer nature has decended into decay and even in Eastern North Carolina it would get gloomy. It is a good time to stay inwardly active. It honors the feeling quality of this time of year and it keeps a truthfulness for our children that something else is going on here along with all of the pretty lights.

  I want to share my practice for this time of year that really helps with all of the external movement of this self-imposed busy season. In my adult life the mood that the grow-ups cultivated through their inner activity was a gift that has transformed into a practice that I really look forward every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  First of all I’d like to attempt to define the being of Christ, so that it can be looked at as a set of concrete virtues that any human being could cultivate.  Not everyone might agree with me and thats okay by me. However, if someone came to me and said: Kyle, what is the essential character of Christ?  I would say these following three virtues are essential:

  1. The capacity for pure perception.  Meaning that you have the ability to perceive the other and the situation objectively and with clarity. 

2. The capacity to Love in any situation regardless of the conditions. (Love, as defined by me, is: the ability to be warm, transparent, truthful and open towards the other or the situation.)

3. The capacity to let one’s actions in the world proceed from those first two virtues.

I think pretty much everyone who is interested in being in relationship with others and has a desire to give and receive love might agree that developing those three capacities would be a good thing.  These are the capacities I wish to cultivate in myself and this is my practice for the month of December:

Week 1:  I reflect on my physical body.  Is there anything about my body or my space that is keeping me from making the space in my physical life from allowing those capacities to grow with in me?

Week 2:  I reflect on how I direct my energy.  What do I give my focus to?  Does what I give my attention to nourish me?  Does it nourish my family?  Do I feel satisfied or dissatisfied at the end of the day?  Do my actions support my vitality or leave me devitalized?

Week 3: I reflect on my emotions.  Can I channel my emotions into feelings and direct them?  Do I feel mostly happy and positive or am I ornery and negative?  Are the people I am in relationship in supporting the way I want to feel? Am I able to achieve equanimity when I feel emotional?  Am I able to still be authentic, truthful and warm even when I strongly disagree with another?

Week 4:  What thoughts and beliefs do I have that could be more open to allow the above virtues to grow in my more fully.

That is what I do, keep the inner activity busy and the outer activity low key.  Doing less outwardly is super, super scary.   The message our current culture gives us is: DO MORE!  Here are a bunch of time saving tips so you can DO MORE!  So, you need to have courage to allow yourself the experience.   If you do give yourself a little taste of Nothing Needs to Happen, it can become such a force of change in your life.

I have this wonderful memory of being with a fantastic group of parents last Spring.  It was a Tuesday morning and one of the last days of our Parent-Child group before the summer.  We were sitting around a table and one of the mother’s said: “I just feel so good here. I wish I could feel like this all the time.”  There was a lot of agreement at the table that this calm and peaceful feeling with each other and the children felt great.   I asked: “ Do you know why you feel so good?”  The mothers were able to point to good things about the morning: it was relaxed, we were always happy to see each other, the room smelled good, it was familiar, the children has grown in so many ways, we had made a community.  All of those aspects were undoubtably true.  I suggested to them that the underlying reason they felt so good was because they each felt that for those two hours, nothing needed to happen.  They all knew that I would help their children if they needed it, that I would prepare the snack and set the table if they didn’t want to, that no matter when they arrived they were right on time.  I then shared with them something I think is really true even when they were not in that room with me ready to care for them and their children and that is : nothing needs to happen.  It can be hard to believe because almost every external message we receive from current culture is that a lot needs to happen and we better get going.   I was a single parent for 10 years: attending, school, working two jobs, parenting alone, and knowing that if I didn’t do it , it wouldn’t get done.  If myself now told myself then that, “nothing needs to happen,” I would have stuck my tounge out at myself and given myself a great big raspberry.  And yet, I know now that it is true. And even though I know it is true I often forget and start feeling very unsatisfied with how I spend my time and how I direct my attention. I feel edgy like I have to make my career, the laundry, dinner, grocery shopping all need to happen at once! The day or month starts feeling like a slog and not the joyful life I want to be living.

If we can allow ourselves to be and live in the mood of Nothing Needs to Happen, even if it is just for an hour a day,  a half hour - 15 minutes, that mood can have a powerful effect in our life.  It is a powerful remedy for what is around us in our common culture. Because, what happens after we allow ourselves to claim that stillness and experience that nothing needs to happen, is we find that a desire will arise in us out of the stillness.  Something will arise in us - an ideal, and impulse to act that when we think about doing it it feels good and not like a slog.  Nothing external motivates us to act.  It is a self-initiated movement. It is a free deed born out of Love.  A love of doing the next right thing. We can discern that it is the next right thing because we feel good about doing it. And, when that is what starts to move us everyday more and more - life gets really satisfying. 




Dangerously Slow

Slow is a Superpower

Slow is a Superpower

Dangerously Slow

 

A few weeks ago my family was headed to Wilmington.  It is about a three hour drive from Chapel Hill to my parent’s house out by Carolina Beach.  Even though our boys are older, twelve and thirteen, we still maintain a strict no screen time in the car policy.  When I was a child I remember frequent road trips from Eastern North Carolina, where I grew up, to Richmond, Virginia, where my aunt lived.  Those trips were about three hours long and I remember often being board or feeling heavy or listless, but I also remember really great moments of having a good conversation with my parents or noticing something I hadn’t noticed before no matter how many times I had been on that road before.  My mother was a great one for playing road sign or license plate bingo which I figured honed my observation skills.   So, here I was continuing the hereditary tradition of offering the opportunity of complete boardroom during a short road trip to our boys.    After the boys moaned some and then offered useful information that all kinds of entertainment systems could actually be built into new cars these days and perhaps it was time for our family to investigate these options, the conversation turned to: If you could have any super power what would it be?   This is a favorite in our family and one that we revisit a lot just because it is fun.  We were just going over the virtues of telekinesis when my husband had to slow way down and exclaimed:  “Hey buddy!  You are going Dangerously Slow!”  And, I said Sam! I love it!  That is my new favorite superpower - going DANGEROUSLY SLOW.  The boys had a good laugh because as far as they are concerned I have that one under my belt.

 

I started to let my imagination go though and I imagined going EVEN slower.  I imagined that I was so slow that I could see plants grow.  So slow that I could perceive all the forces of everything that was becoming before it became.  And then because I moved so slowly and knew all that was becoming I could then hop on the “regular” time stream and act out of crystal clear clarity knowing just the right action to take with ease.

 

I shared with my family this new super power and how it would be really useful to a superhero team.  They were skeptical and thought I should keep with my usual choice, telekinesis.  They said “Mamma,  who needs another super power besides telekinesis?  If you can control everything with your mind what else could you want.”   I thought that is true but what if you were so slow that your saw everything that was becoming and didn’t need to control it but could just know how to act within it?   For now, I think it might be the coolest super power yet.  What would we call her?  The Snail? The Time Stretcher?

The Singularity? 

 

It may never happen that this superpower catches on and inspires a whole new dynamic duo.  With little children slowing down is essential and going dangerously slow so that the actual experience of linear time is disrupted can be very satisfying if you are willing to give it a try.  Little children are in the now and the now is every moment and every moment is a fluid transformation of the one before it.  It is why their play is so creative.  Certainly if you slow down you can really appreciate the quality of their play and when in groups their social interactions.  The conditions that one needs to create to achieve the ability to appreciate the children this way is usually born out of creating a rhythmic form to the day that you and your child can count on.  If you can rest in a rhythm then you don’t have to think too much and that leaves so much of you available for observation and appreciation of the children.   If you slow down even more - sort of go a step beyond resting in the rhythm and you begin to rest completely in yourself, in your sense of well-being.  You can have the experience that even though you have a plan nothing needs to happen.  When you enter into that place of nothing needs to happiness then time really slows down and you can really begin to experience the forces that create worlds.  Clarity of word and action are available to you at every moment, so you find you become completely objective and non-reactive.  You can spend a whole day with them and not feel exhausted at the end.   You have stopped exerting any mental energy or and physical energy to make things happen. You enter into Being.  And, a lot of things are happening there you just aren’t making it happen anymore.  Moving Dangerously Slow, its a new superpower.

 

Feeling Ourselves

Jumping into Practice: How do you Feel Yourself?

Jumping into Practice: How do you Feel Yourself?

Feeling Ourselves: observing and creating the experiences we are seeking

We are given opportunities to feel who we are in our individuality through three distinct pathways: our bodily nature, our emotions and feelings towards ourselves in relationship to the world, and our thoughts.  Because our feelings and thoughts come to expression through our bodily nature they belong to us and no one else.

At birth, these three aspects of the human being are completely united.  Anyone watching a infant nurse can see an example of this phenomena.  A baby’s hunger is so great, that it is tied up completely with their experience of their body.   Through the act of nursing or taking a bottle from their caregiver, a baby has their hunger satisfied and also receives emotional comfort from the act.   Their bodily process of receiving warmth and nourishment are completely inseparable from the emotional comfort and reassurance they feel from the act of nursing.   Through the experience, the child receives information from the act of nursing: the physical: “ I am full and content.”  and emotional “I am loved and cared for”.  The physical experience and the emotional content are completely intertwined. The concept, the thought involved  is so peripheral to the infant that it does not even exist within the form of thought for the child, but rather it is a mood they will come to recognize over time.  It is that of goodness.

Over the course of a human life these pathways of the bodily nature, the feeling experience, and the world of thought have the opportunity to become three separate and distinctive pathways that are not bound up with each other.  We seek experiences in each of these three ways in order to gain more information about ourselves and our relationship to the world.

Out of the observation and reflection of the adult who is caring for them, children begin to understand what experiences they are seeking. Through the very act of the adults observation and reflection the child is better able to come into relationship with others through their developing self-regulatory capacities that are reflected to them by their parent or caregiver.

Very recently in a class for infants and their mothers/caregivers one of the mothers asked:  “How can I work with this at home?”   This mother shared that the infant’s older brothers want to engage with the baby.  They take the baby’s hands and clap them together.  It isn’t naughty but also the mother observes that it isn’t quite right either.  She shared: “They aren’t really doing anything bad.  They just want to be with her.”

The question is how do we help the boys come into right relationship with their sister.  

The following picture was offered as an imagination of how this might be worked with:

Older child grasping infants hands

“I see you want to be with your sister.  Yes, there she is.”

Child touching hands making infant’s hands clap together.  The infant does not seem to like it.  She wants her hands free she scrunches her face.

“You want to touch her and play with her.”

“Look, she seems to want her hands free.  Let ‘s see what she wants to do.”

“Ah she wants to move them freely. She is learning about her hands.  It is good that she can move them as she chooses.”

  Parent and child observe the infant

“Lets see what she can do.”  

Child offers that she is looking around

“She can look around.  Yes, that is right she can look around.  Let's put a toy here just to the side.  Perhaps she will notice it.  Lets see.”

Child wiggles toy over her face.

“I want to give it to her.”

 You see that startles her a bit- let's put it here and see what happens.”

The above picture is just to characterize how something could unfold.  Depending on the age and attention of the child it could be completely different.  A three year old may run off.  A six year old may have more interest.  It doesn’t matter.  Just work with it and then see what happens.  The cultivation of your observation and clarity of thought is the most important aspect.  The children provide us with endless opportunities for this - it is never finished.

It takes time and a willingness to work with what is happening in all the dynamic activity in every situation with the child.  Also, in this case some interest and understanding of the benefits of motor development through self-initiated movement has guided the adult's capacity to respond with clarity.  So we as the caregivers of the children really have to begin to observe what is in front of us, then go away and think a bit- imagine: How do I want to work with this?  When this rhythm is taken up as a practice in the adult: observe and reflect, observe and reflect,  eventually you will become so practiced in what you are observing you will cease to be thinking or reacting around your child.  You will know what to do and you will act out of that knowing.

When you begin to work in this way, keep in mind that this observation and reflection of activity can eventually become a mood that surrounds the children.  All of these verbal cues can become non-verbal to a greater extent when the clarity and consciousness of the adult has fully penetrated the activity and relationships with through their own developing practice of observation and reflection.

Cultivating a practice looks something like this:

-Observation: What is happening here?

-Creating Warmth: generated through interest in the other

Here the adult seeks to see what experinces the child is seeking in order to feel themselves and gain satisfaction.   

-Reflection: this can begin with verbal cues but eventually the relationship between adult and child can become so developed that a look or gesture will communicate everything.

As adults we can think about the experiences that we want to have.  We can cultivate what we desire through imagining what we want to experience and then take the steps to carry it out.  We can be guided by our bodily nature, and by our feeling life.  However, it is our imagination our thinking that allows us as adults to truly feel ourselves.  When we cultivate the imaginative picture of the experience we would like to create, when we feel inspired to come into an outer relationship with that inner picturing, we can then feel satisfied in our steps to carry out its creation.

When we work with our children through our imagination, inspiration and finally into our doing through relaxing into our intuitive capacities we will experience deep satisfaction.  We will experience the relaxed awareness of our capacities for creation.  This feels really good.

Our children are in this state while they play.  It is not a cognitive process with them as it is with us.  When a child is at play their body is relaxed and soft.  It is why they can fall so often and mostly never get hurt.  Their relaxation in their body and in their concepts of what is, their imagination, is completely fluid.  Their feelings flow as well into what they do and their capacity for instant transformation is without peer.  It is best to create a safe space for the child to enter into with objects that lend themselves to the open concept and then just be near the child and observe peripherally while engaging in your own deeply satisfying work.  This is the optimal environment for the child.  For the adult it provides the continual opportunity to practice cognitive flow.

For anyone who is interested in seeing the world anew everyday, working with the young child is the ultimate practice.  Children take us to the leading edge everyday.  They provide the opportunity to keep our bodies supple, our emotions in check, and our concepts open and fluid.  We in turn have the opportunity to offer them the radiant warmth and interest of our whole being.  We are provided with the humbling opportunity to be their sun.  We attract them and surround them with our love.  And with that nourishment they are provided the opportunity to become who they came to be. 

My deep appreciation for the thoughts of Dr. Emmi Pikler and Dr. Rudolf Steiner.   Also, to Anne Nicholson, my working partner. It has been out of  our work together with Cosmic Evolution and the Human Being and The Riddle of Humanity, that has primarily guided the thoughts above.

Sense of Touch

Boundaries are a container for our Light to Shine

Boundaries are a container for our Light to Shine

These notes were prepared from a Parent Evening given at Emerson Waldorf School on the 11th of October 2017

“ When you touch objects, you actually perceive only yourself.  You touch an object and if it is hard it presses forcibly on you; if it is soft its pressure is only slight.  You perceive nothing of the object, however; you sense only the effect upon yourself, the change in your own organism when you perceive by means of the sense of touch.”

Rudolf Steiner Spiritual Science As a Foundation for Social Forms

What Rudolf Steiner states above can challenge our concepts around what touching means.  He asks us repeatedly throughout the various times he speaks of the twelve sense of the human being to begin to make a distinction between the sense of touch and other senses we might intertwine with it such as warmth, balance and movement.  

What does it mean to touch and be touched? 

For us to be able to begin to understand the sense of touch apart from other senses, we can look at the human physiology for this sense.  

The organ for the sense of touch is primarily the skin.  The hair follicles have a delicate network of nerve endings associated with each hair.  These nerve endings are particularly sensitive to pressure.  On the hairless portions of our bodies, that are especially sensitive to touch the pressure points take the form of Meissner’s bodies or tactile corpuscles. 

There is this physical element of the sense of touch, which can be traced all the way to the physical organism.  Also, we have to look at the phenomena of when we touch something it becomes our own an extension of how we touch.  Just think when we hold a hammer, shovel, drum stick, sculpting tool, paint brush any of these become an extension of our touching experience.  

Just as we discussed in our last evening together the expansive and contractive elements of our life sense.  The sense of touch also works at the boundary of our skin expanding our “point of experience,”  to the end of what we are touching or inward as something presses in against us.  Karl Konig describes the organ of touch as connecting itself in a web that stretches across the body that is able to expand and contract making what we touch our own.

There is the soul element of touching.  The whole world touches us through our sense gates.  And how deeply penetrated we are by these experiences tells us something about ourselves.  As parents we can keep in mind both these physical and soul elements of touch when working with our children. 

Questions we can ask ourselves as we work with our daily rhythms and physical spaces at home are:

What do I want my child to make her own?

What kind of environment can I create that will allow him more opportunities for nourishing and digestible touch experiences both physically and at the soul level.

How do I work with the physical environment that invites the child to the boundary of their skin and beyond?

This evening we are making a lantern.  The vessel of the lantern gives the light a boundary in which it shines more brightly if it did not have something to reflect its light against.  When we give our children boundaries, in both their physical space as well as the values of our family culture that they can self-initiate into, such as: “ “ In our family we sit when we are eating”, or “We hold hands in the parking lot, our children can relax and expand to the boundary and really shine.  These boundary experiences increase our children’s self-confidence, support their life-sense and reduce anxiety.  The boundaries are clear and the child can experience the satisfaction of their fullness when the boundaries are clear.  As the child gains mastery within the boundaries you form and reform throughout their development towards adulthood, the vessel that holds their light grows increasingly larger until they themselves carry it out into the world.  It is with the this clarity of boundaries their sense of touch of touching and being touched will develop towards a healthy adulthood.

 

The Sense of Life-The Sense of Well-Being

Well-Being is Life

Well-Being is Life

The following notes were prepared from a Parent-Evening at Emerson Waldorf School 2017

“ The human being apprehends or perceives tiredness or exhaustion as an inner experience in the same way as he or she apprehends or perceives color.  That which comes to expression in the feeling of hunger or thirst or what we can call a specific feeling of strength which we also experience inwardly, as we do color or tone...this first human perception of self is given through the sense of life, through which the human being becomes conscious of his bodily nature.”

-Rudolf Steiner The Wisdom of Man of the of the Soul and Spirit.

Berlin October 1909-December 1911

 

Because the human being has a sense of life she can experience herself as a complete whole.

The sense of being a complete whole has a physical component which develops from the child’s interaction with their physical environment over the first year of their life and an emotional component that comes by way of their experience of their needs being met.  How those needs are met also provides important information to the child.  Is there time or is everything always in a rush?  

Over the first year of life habits are created, both physical and emotional habits.  These are so interrelated that it can be difficult to tease them apart.  For example: A baby’s hunger is so great.  It is tied up completely with their experience of their body.  A baby has their hunger satisfied and their also receive emotional comfort from the act. Their bodily process of receiving warmth and nourishment are completely inseparable from the emotional comfort and reassurance they feel from the act of nursing.   Through the experience, the child receives information from the act of nursing: the physical: “ I am full and content.”  and emotional “I am loved and cared for” are completely intertwined.

We can see this again in the little child with their impulse towards movement.  When he  falls, the knock he gets also gives them twofold information: 1. That was my body in relationship to the world. 2. How I feel about that.  There is was an unplanned aspect to the fall that now the child has to come into relationship both physically and emotionally.  Here of course the situation is more dynamic and other foundational senses are also at work: touch, balance, movement.  The point here is that even in this more dynamic situation the physical and the emotional information are  deeply entwined.  The child is receiving an awakening of themselves in their body, which is the physical component.  The emotional information has a lot to do with how the adult responds to the child’s awakening:  Is my grown-up there?  Do they see me?  Do they see what happened?  What do they think about it?  These are the questions that are living in a child’s soul when they take a tumble.  How the adult responds to the situation informs the child’s emotional life and this happens at the physiological level.

The organ for the sense of life is autonomic nervous system.  The ANS is made up of two parts that are at polarities in their tasks.  The sympathetic nervous system's task is one of contraction if you will.  It dilates and inhibits organ function if we are experiencing fear or anxiety.  The parasympathetic nervous system expands, secrets and relaxes our organs.  If the child can meet a challenge and their caregiver can be present with their pain, taking proper action from clarity rather than reacting this capacity in the adult has a physiological in the child.  They relax.  They may be uncomfortable or even hurt or scared.  When they feel the loving clearheaded presence of the adult they love, the child will relax and feel soothed.  They will have an inner experience of” “It will be alright. This does not last forever.”  They have to feel that truth somatically in their bodies.  If an adult tells them it will be alright without the physical response it feels untruthful to the child.  When the child the child is able to meet the challenge or the pain the presence of a relaxed adult who responds out of clarity the child experinces an expansion in their body.  They are able to come into their body more fully to meet what comes towards them from the world.

What can we do to help support our children's sense of wellbeing- their sense of Life?

Nutrition, a environment and routine the child can count on, clothing that protects their body and provides adequate warmth, all these go a long way towards supporting our children.  There is something that is available to us at every moment that supports our child’s sense of well-being and that is our relationship to our child.  If we can examine our own sense of well-being we can gain insight into our child’s own experience of themselves.  Are we able to go throughout the day without feeling like life is happening to us?  Can we become less reactive and act more out of clarity of what is in front of us.  A healthy life-sense is what enables us to meet the world.  If we feel good - we can meet what comes towards us.  If we are sick or frazzled, worried our resilience for what comes towards us in the way of challenges will be less.    We want our children to be able to meet what comes towards them in life.

These steps are ones you can take daily at every moment that will support your child’s experience of their bodily nature and consequently their experience of themselves as whole.

-Cultivate Warmth-Interest

-Create Time - Slow down

-Create Space- Both in the inner life of the adult and outwardly in the physical space. The child needs to feel a natural bodily understanding of the outer space.  For example, there needs to be a bench and shoe place so the child can sit down take off their own shoes and put them away without verbal instruction.  The child does it because the physical space indicates it is so.  In this way the child has the ability to complete a task and an inner feeling of “I can do that too.”

-Watch for Self-Initiation-the observe without talking

-Accompany the struggle and suffering “ I am here with you.”

-Watch for an experience of satisfaction/somatic relaxation

-Reflect back to the Child- verbally or nonverbally “I see you.”

Developing an ability to accompany our child as they struggles with our warm hearted open presence  is a gift to our children.  To be there to witness and support with our loving interest.  This is a real gift for our child’s developing sense of well being.  Cultivating this capacity can be a painful experience.  It is not easy work  to be there as a silent witness to your child’s struggle. However, when your child overcomes her struggle and has that feeling of  ownership of  experience: “I did it.”  Witnessing that is nothing short of reflected, perfected joy- for both of you.

The sense that we shall call the sense of life involves processes that lie still more deeply embedded in the human organism.  This sense exists within us, but we are accustomed to ignore it, for the life sense manifests itself indistinctly throughout all our daily waking hours, the harmonious collaboration of all the bodily organs expresses itself through the life sense, through the state of life in us.  We usually pay no attention to it because we expect it as our natural right.  We expect to be filled with a certain feeling of well-being, with the feeling of being alive.  If our feeling of alive-ness is diminished, we try to recover a little so that our feeling of life is refreshed again.   

-Rudolf Steiner Riddle of Humanity Dornach, 12 August 1916

These notes were prepared with thanks and appreciation for the thinking that Rudolf Steiner, Karl Konig and Emmi Pikler bring to humanity.  Also, for the work of Susan Weber and Jane Swain and everyone at Sophia’s Hearth who support the young child in their self-initiated movement.  Finally my collaboration with Kathleen Stone-Michael and my study partner Anne Nicholson to whom I am grateful beyond words.

Teaching Patience: Do you sit down to put on your shoes?

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Parents I work with will often ask me:  How do I teach my child to be patient?  They will describe being pestered by their child while they are right in the middle of doing something.  And, even after they have said: Wait a minute! many, many times it has had no effect on their child's ability to be patient.  Why doesn't their child see that they are busy?  Can't their child see that they are right in the middle of changing a diaper, or cooking a meal, or answering a text for the next thing coming?

It is interesting that we expect our children to understand patience.  I experience adults with very little patience everyday while driving or at the supermarket.  I wonder why is it we expect our little children to be patient when we as adults generally want our stuff right now.

Little children live in the moment and it is difficult for them to understand that the attention they desire will be coming to them in time.  Patience is developing the skill of waiting until you get what you want.  Patience can be a very useful skill it cultivate in life.  It is a difficult skill to teach because it really comes with an experience of time and impulse control.   However, the act of practicing loving attention and deep interest in another human being and the natural world, that can become a daily practice for you that your child can take part in. 

A good habit for you and your child that can result in the long term development of patience is beginning a practice of sitting down to put on your shoes.

I observe daily parents standing as they wiggle their feet into their own shoes and then quickly wrestle their child into their shoes.  Our children desire our attention and in return they are deeply interested in what and how we ourselves go about our daily living.  Because of this interest of our children in us they will begin to imitate our habit life.  Our children are so deeply interested in how we are doing something that they will strive to imitate the quality of our gestures both inwardly and outwardly.   I suggest taking up a practice of sitting down to put on your shoes. 

The first thing you will have to do is make the decision that you are going to begin to practice.  You first have to make the mental space for this conscious practice with your child.  Next, you will need to create the physical space,  That means the shoes need to be in a space that is tidy and accessible to both the parent and the child.  You will need two sitting spaces one for you and one for your child.   When you are ready to leave the house.  Take your child by the hand and say simply: "It is time to put on our shoes."  Sit with your child next to as you give your full attention to putting on your own shoes beautifully.  Really take pleasure in taking a moment to sit down and enjoy putting on your shoes.  Depending on the age of your child and their activity level, they may be intensely interested in what you are doing and go get their own shoes to put on.    Perhaps this practice might take more time if they are used to the rush and push method of getting ready to go out the door.   No matter what your child's outer interest level appears to be.  Continue to be confident in your choice to sit down take a deep breath and put on your shoes.  If your child has not been paying attention you can go get her and say: "Time to put on your shoes now."  You can watch and assist your child as they put on their own shoes offering encouragement and gentle simple assistance if they say " I can't do it"  If you allow your child to begin to help put on their shoes at around two and take this time  with them then you will not hear " I can't do it."  This I can't do it attitude usually comes around three to four if a child has not been allowed to be actively involved in their own self care.  When taking up this practice with an older child, one of three or four, simple verbal encouragement might be needed if they say I can't do it.  You could say: "You can do it.  I believe in you."  Then watch as they make the attempt out of themselves.  What you need to do to is support them with your warm interest so they can feel successful.  Over time, you will be able to lessen both the verbal and physical support they will need. When a child thinks they can not accomplish an aspect of self care and are supported through to the ability to complete the task their eyes light up with the feeling of satisfaction.  I have seen frustration turn to joy in a moment as a foot is finally wiggled in, or a shoe is ties or a zipper is zipped.  Scowls and furrows turn to a glowing face and usually an exclimation of "I did it!"  Instead of jumping in and saying and enthusiastic GOOD JOB!!  Just take a breath  inhale and exhale and then say: "You did do it."  An affirmation of having been witness to their accomplishment  is all that is needed not a comment on the quality of it. 

Another requirement for this practice will take 15 minutes rather than the three that it take you to wiggle on your own shoes and wrestle your child into theirs.  Take it up as a research project done over four weeks and see what happens. Notice what you have done as you, with your focused attention, watch your child put on their own shoes with interest.  You have practiced patience yourself. Cultivating interest is perhaps the road to patience because there are a lot in interesting things happening while you are waiting around to get what you want.

Breathing-in and Breathing-out

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We all breath every minute of our life.  Breathing-in and breathing-out, if you do one, you can be sure that the other will follow, every time.  But the quality and space of your breathing is the ease or the unease you experience in your life.  Everyday we experience moments of freedom like the mood of those we experience at the hight of summer - that is exhaling.  We also experience the driving on I-95 moments- that is inhaling.  A good approach to creating a balanced healthy day for yourself and your children is to have a rhythm to your day that breaths back and forth gently from inhaling to exhaling.   There are many breathing rhythms that you can create for your family that will provide strength and comfort for yourself and your children.

Living in the Princeton area, I find that I really have to concentrate on the exhale.  I find that the day begins and I am breathing.  I feel at ease and peaceful.  Then I get into the car and I inhale, get my son to his class inhale.  I start to breath again while I do my morning work with the children in my classroom.  The whole morning in the early childhood classroom is based on rhythmic breathing and it is something I can count on everyday.  After the children go home or to lunch, I go to faculty meetings and start to inhale, e-mails needing to be answered - inhale. I have to get dinner ready because my son is HUNGRY- another inhalation. 

We have a tendency to inhale so much in our everyday living, that in the evenings we don't exhale. Most people are still inhaling through media consumption.  It is just that at the same time we also just switch off our presence with a glass of wine, the television, a video game, Facebook, butterfingers ( that is my favorite).  We switch ourselves off because we have had too much and then it is hard to be present for what our children need from us.

The first step towards creating a rhythm to the day that breaths is to begin to notice how your day is going.  How do you feel during the day?  Are there moment when you are feeling an inner tension in your abdomen or develop a headache?  These are physical signs that your daily rhythmic breathing needs to change.  Observe for a few weeks do I have a tendency to do more inhaling? Do I schedule a lot of playdates or after school activities?  Do I lots of errands and spend time in the car or on the phone?  Observe to see if there is a time in your day for a leisurely walk with your child.  Do you work in the yard while your child is playing? Do you take 15 minutes and put aside the project you are doing on your computer to throw the frisbee outside?  The first step to changing your daily breathing is to observe.  Begin to write down your day.  Write down the moments you Loved and then the moments where your belly was tight or your head started to ache.  Keep the parts you Love and then start to slow down the parts that don't feel good.  Changing your breathing can be as easy as throwing a frisbee or taking a walk for 15 minutes before making dinner.
 

 

Breathing In

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I get the same sort of question at the end of the summer.  "Are you sorry the summer is over?"  Not really... like I said, I, we, my family, couldn’t really get more out.  And it has to stop sometime... we have to come back to our senses- for health’s sake. For just as we breath out we must breath in. 

It helped a little that we had three days of solid rain before we left Wilmington.  I am a solarian and I get a little drunk on the sun, so it was helpful that it disappeared.  I felt myself beginning to bring it back together as I packed.  As my son and I drove north on 95 we stopped in Richmond at the Ellwood Thompson’s Market.  I went to high school in Richmond and so I know the organic market there and we stop on our way up to Princeton and down to Wilmington because it is one place I know we can get a fairly quick organic meal.  I had put a complete moratorium on junk food consumption beginning immediately, and although Jude-Edward made a very small obligatory complaint I could really feel him inwardly saying: Thank You God, My Mamma is back.

North of Richmond we hit traffic and slowed down to 15 mph until we were a little south of DC.  I felt myself take a long in-breath.  We were behind U-hauls, lots of them, parents taking their children to college.  This is the long way back at the end of summer.  The long slow in-breath of the year begins.

Summer is officially over tomorrow for me.  I have to be on campus for CPR and First-Aid renewal.  If a day of considering every kind of emergency there could possibly be doesn’t bring you back to your senses.  I don’t know what will.

So we are back officially:  home-cooked organic meals, exercise, calendars, meetings, 7:00 bedtime, rhythm.  It is good to be back!

Breathing Out

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As the school year comes to a close I am often asked the question: “Are you ready for it to be over?” or “Are you glad it is almost over?”  The truth is I am not really ready or glad for the school year to come to an end.  I love the school year.  I love what I do and I love working with the children, their parents, and my fantastic colleagues.  What is true is that the school year has to come to an end- there is no other choice.  It is like breathing.  If you have taken an in- breath an out-breath is coming and nothing you can do can stop it.  The school year has been so rich and full there is nothing left to be done except have a big out breath

I love the summer too.  I love it as much as I love the school year for totally different reasons.  During the school year my days are predictable- really predictable.  There is a rhythm to my work day and my family life that I can count on and I love that.  The seasons change and they are marked by school festivals and  family celebrations that mark the passage of time and the unique experience of that season.  I can count on knowing what I am doing year after year.  I like that because I feel each year as I work with the children knowing what is coming up next, the opportunity is created for me to become more masterful, more creative and playful in my work.  It creates an opportunity for me to feel myself within myself and within my work.

The summer on the other hand Woo-Hoo!  I love the beach and the ocean and I have no idea what is going to happen next except hanging out.  When I arrived in Wilmington I sent a message to a good friend to say: "I am here lets get together."  She said: “What is your schedule?”  I loved saying “What schedule?”  Going to the beach in the morning, going to the beach in the evening - we are just going to the beach.  The sun is so hot and high.  I soak up every bit of it and just love it.  The sun is so hot and high and I just almost loose all my senses.  My son lives off of smoothies and sandy beach snacks.  We stay on the beach until the sun sinks low- friends laughing and talking and children playing like the summer will never end.  The last week we were at the beach and Jude-Edward was eating Doritos and bean burritos from Taco Bell.  I was in this very laissez-faire mood and it wasn’t until it was all over that I remembered that the corn in those things were totally GMOs and that an environmental group sent me a post to say that Taco Bell is responsible for adding to the deforestation of North Carolina’s forests.  Whoa, Did I really just let you drink an orange soda?  What was I thinking?

That is just it I wasn’t thinking I was breathing out - Way Out.  If I had been anymore out I would have been as light and bright as the sun.  And, boy did it feel good.
It is good to loose your senses sometimes.

Creating a Rhythm for Living

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I am in North Carolina for Spring Break.  I grew up going to these beaches for most of my life.  For the first five years of my son’s life we would come to the beach year round.   He and the dogs could run and I could look out at the ocean that has always made me feel the same wonder no matter my age.  The ocean is a great way to think about life.  The waves come to the shore rhythmically.

On any given day depending on the moon or the storms brewing out at sea, the rhythms of the waves can be very different.  They posses a different feeling, sometimes calm and soothing and sometimes the waves are really gnarly and coming fast.  So for me this is like life.  Depending on what storms are brewing in my internal life or how fast challenges are being thrown at me the quality of my day will feel different.  This is always true, that days will feel different and we will feel different.  The key to creating a rhythm for healthy living is to be aware of how our inner life is meeting our outer life.

I am around family and working with everything that comes up when around family the good feelings and the really tough ones.  I am seeing really good friends, reconnecting with them and seeing our children play together.  I am experiencing really high highs and  really low lows all in one week at the beach.  While this is OK for a week it really does not make for healthy living for young children to live swinging wildly between these polarities.  Rhythm is essential for healthful living.  And because the ocean of life is totally unpredictable, it is up to us as the adults, the caregivers to establish healthy rhythms for our children.  For children to be able to develop bodily and emotional health they need good sleep, consistent digestible nutrition for their individual bodies, freedom in play, and quiet moments offered in a rhythmic way they can count on.  These  are essentials for a healthy childhood. 

What do you do when inner life is tumultuous?  Here are few tips for making a rhythmic life, no matter what your family dynamic is or what waves are crashing to your shore.  When life gets really hectic, it is important to be able to hold to a rhythm.  There is a lot of strength in a family rhythm.  There are plenty of times to let it go too, but when the going gets tough having a rhythm that your children can count on will save you a lot of additional stress because both you and your child will know what is coming next.  You as the parent won’t have to think about what to do next and your child can feel relaxed knowing that, for example, after dinner comes bedtime no matter what. 

You can begin to shape your family rhythm with looking at waking and morning meal time.  See how that time of day feels and think about how you would like it to feel.  If the morning feels rushed with you grabbing something for your child as your race out the door after a long argument about what your child is going to wear.  If the morning feels rushed and full of arguments and this is not the way you desire for your families day to begin it is possible to change your morning experience by taking a few simple actions.  It is helpful to think prepare for your morning in the evening.   Making decisions about what your child is going to be wearing and laying their clothes out where your child can see and know where they are wearing the next morning can ease what can be a challenging time if waiting until waking morning.  Laying out the table, the night before so that the family can sit down together in the morning creates a nourishing environment for everyone upon waking up.  When these simple actions have been taken our morning can be transformed from an out of breath rush to a calm enjoyable mealtime together and a better start for everyone’s day.   When we begin to think how would I like this moment to be for my family and take simple actions towards our inner vision of the experience we would like to create  Other times that can be worked with to create a smooth and strong family rhythm are transitions to and from school, mealtimes, and bedtimes.  Don’t get overwhelmed by making a big shift all at once.  Baby steps and small digestible changes can be huge for your family’s experience of the day.   Take each time of day as they come to you, hold inwardly the imagination of how you would like that time to be and gradually make the changes you need in your day to create what you desire.  Eventually through this moment to moment approach you can transition towards a family rhythm you can count on when the going gets tough.  This a life approach that can help you transform your parenting.