Integrate, Don’t Segregate

Meet in Action

We are often defined by what it is that we do.  Now that my role is a stay-at-home homeschooling mom, I don’t think that really defines me.  Come to think of it, I’ve always had a problem with being asked what my job is.  What I do is so much greater than my ‘job.’  Here is a another area where it is easier to categorize, classify, sort, delineate and define someone by something external from themselves.  Some people do work they do not care for, so should their job still be judged as a reflection of themselves?  Then I think about all the people I have taught with over the years and how much variance I’ve seen in personality, aptitude and approach to the very same role.  So why do we try to define someone by what they do?

In pondering how we come together with other people, I started to think about how it is that we come to know each other.  In a way, all we can do is infer, gathering data through clues over a span of time.  The longer the ‘study’ the clearer the results.  What people say, how they act, tone of voice, body language, and what they do…all action.  It is at the point of action that we have a chance to express ourselves and where we have the opportunity to try and understand another.  Sometimes our actions are misinterpreted and our intent does not come across.  But then I think of all the times that I can get a sense of someone or a situation before spending much time with it.  I feel this connection reflects my mammalian instinct and skill that I rarely call upon.  I use these instincts along with my logical mind to piece together my version of reality.  This is a skill I’m trying to hone since I would love to be able to trust my instincts more.  Through many means we are taught not to trust our inner voice within our culture.  Ironically, it is my instinctual understanding of the world that has more likelihood of providing a truer picture of reality.

So, if action is the portal where our separate realities can collide, then it makes me consider how important my actions are.  How am I meeting the world with what I do, and is it in line with how I want to be perceived?  I cannot change how my actions are perceived, but I can change what it is that I’m doing.  In an effort to maintain integrity, I try to think very carefully about how it is that I interact.  How do I spend my time?  How do I spend my money?  How do I make my money?  How do I treat those around me?  How do I treat myself?  And ultimately, how do my actions reflect my inner experience, or do they miss the mark?  Being honest with myself is the only way I can present any level of honesty to the world.

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A Message of Activism

“If we don’t change our direction, we’re going to wind up where we’re headed”

-Native American Saying

I had the extreme pleasure of attending a lecture given by Starhawk last week.  I decided that her message was too important to keep to myself, so here are the salient points that I came away with…

The decisions we make in the next ten years will determine the future of the human species and the earth.  Culture forgets that our resources are sacred.  We need to start caring about Earth’s resources more than our own comfort.  We need to care enough to refuse watching it be defiled.  We need to care enough that we will make sacrifices in order to maintain clean water.

It is a problem when power is in the hands of few people.  Centralized power likes centralized power.  Why does centralized power require enforcement?  Because in its very nature, it’s calling for rebellion.  We can’t ‘solve’ climate change because of the vested interest in oil.  The Tar Sands raise a deep moral question.  How do we take care of the earth?  A million Litres of water a polluted EVERY DAY in the extraction of oil from Tar Sands, 95% of which cannot be treated.  The first are showing signs of tumors and cancer.  What we need is a shift in consciousness, spirit and values in order to make change.  We need interdependence and cooperation.

“What would it be like if we replaced scarcity thinking with the goal of creating as much real abundance as possible?”

-Courney White, Grass, Soil, Hope

Abundance means sharing and everyone having enough.  Abundance is found through generosity.  We need to create safe, renewable power within ourselves to regenerate the land.  We need to rehydrate the earth – water brings life.  Slow it, spread it, sink it.  Drought represents many levels of difficult relationships.  Put humus (carbon) back in the soil to regain humility.  Heal the soil by using compost, compost tea, sheet mulching, worms, bio-char, fungi/mycellium, growing intentionally selected plants and working for survival.  Look to holistic management practices for grazing animals according to patterns of wild herds to regenerate soil quickly by restoring carbon.

We don’t need outer solutions, what we need to do is work in harmony.  Here she cited the example of a company looking to invent a device to take carbon dioxide out of the air, balking at this unnecessary business venture, since nature and plants have the best possible systems to serve this need, ones we couldn’t dream of replicating, let alone improve on.  What we need to do is stop taking resources out of our planet in order to preserve the pristine while doing all we can to put carbon back into the soil.  We are responsible for giving back, not just taking.

We need to be considering the destruction of our environment as a moral issue.  Then value moral issues above economic issues.  We need to take care of each other.  Our money should be going to support the elderly, educating the young and taking care of the sick.  Wealth distribution is not stable or sustainable.  Localize and regenerate the cities by growing food near them.  How many times the dollar changes hands before it leaves the community is the determining factor for how much buying local is actually supporting the local economy.  Shopping at your local chain store serves no inherit benefit.  We need to shift our view away from large systems.  The message isn’t less, it’s conservation. Save energy.

Let’s look at how to improve the quality of our lives so we require less quantity.  Transition towns.  Community gardens.  Community on every level is the antidote to climate change.  We need to organize in order to create change.  Lobby.  Campaign.  Use media.  Build coalitions.  Resist and protest.  Say no to policy, not to the people behind it.  It is for a noble cause that we separate the people from the choices they make.  Build leverage, but out of love rather than hatred.  Build our future for the land, nature, and our children.  We need to do all of this yesterday – but since we can’t, we need to do it today!

Stages of an activist campaign: research, educate (children and officials), negotiate (policies and legislation), mobilize, direct action, and transformation!  She left us to ponder the question,”What are you producing that feeds the land?”

Offensively Defensive

I started using the phrase ‘offensively defensive’  to describe some of my interactions with other people.  I’m describing the times where I feel like I may be under scrutiny for not living up to societal expectations.  I have fallen into the trap of trying to be defensive of my choices and the state of my life by ‘heading comments off at the pass’ if you will, so that I can make an excuse for something before someone has a chance to pass judgement.  Playing offense with defensive tactics.  In reality I’m being offensive to myself because of my defensiveness.  All this strategy does is opens a conversation that never needed to happen in the first place.  It is so rare for people to actually be disturbed enough by something I’m doing to make a comment.  Being unnecessarily explanatory for inadequacies also makes me appear insecure about what it is that I’m defending.  Looking in on myself, I see a disconnect in how I’m presenting myself to the world.  I carefully wind my way through life, checking my integrity at every pass.  So why am I coming to my own defense before it is called for?  If I were as confident as I think I am in my choices, then there should be no need to defend them.

I have so many examples of times where I use this strategy.  The easiest to spot are when people come over.  I feel the need to excuse the state of my house.  Rather than just letting it be what it is (cluttered because I spend time with my children and writing and reading instead of tidying).  I make excuses for the dishes near the sink or the mountain of clean but yet to be folded laundry.  Rather than allowing the energy to remain clear, it draws attention and my own negative energies to these misgivings, and measures them up as such by my own admission. Other examples include our food choices.  Rather than just stating facts (I don’t eat…) I feel the need to justify everything.  Unless a reason is asked for, people don’t really care.  And it’s not like I explain myself well in these situations, I usually give a partial answer, the one I think people want to hear.  Rather than clarifying things, it’s more like voluntarily putting myself into a fight or flight situation, one which only makes the issue more convoluted!

So…why do I do this to myself?

Because I feel there is some sort of standard that I should be living up to – but there is none, because we are not machines, we are not all alike, and we all have our own priorities.  Because I feel that I am being judged unfairly – but I cannot know that since I am only anticipating and projecting judgments, ones conjured in my own mind and thus a reflection of myself.  Because I feel like I should be better at something than I am – which I don’t need to be, I am what I am, I am enough.

So then, what instead?  I’d like to stop offending myself now.  Could I accept that people may judge my home, me, my children?  Could I accept that their judgement is not mine?  Could I exercise some self-compassion?  Could I choose to be happy?  Grateful for how I do spend my time?  Lose the fear?  Love?  Love it all?  I choose that.  And if I can’t be that yet, I’ll fake it until I can.

Should Children Do Chores?

I was having a conversation with a friend last weekend about how to get our children to help us with chores.  We were questioning how to balance the workload of mothering with giving the children all they need besides a tidy home.  I wish I could accomplish everything myself with ease, then this would not even need to be a problem!  It would be nice for the laundry to be folded and put away, the dishes to be done, the floor swept after each meal, the counters cleared and wiped, the clutter filed, the toys picked up and sorted..oh…should I stop the wishlist?  I fully recognize that there are many more important things than a clean house, which is why I usually have dishes scattered about the kitchen and unfolded laundry piled in the corner.

What I have noticed though is that when I let my chores slide a little too far, when the laundry piles creep out into our living space, or the kitchen is so bad that I have no work spaces left to prepare food, then the rest of the household starts to unravel as well.  This goes for both its general state of cleanliness and the attitudes of the people living here.  As I discussed in a previous post about the broken window theory, there is a certain amount of maintenance that is our baseline.  Without that, things seem to spiral out of alignment quickly.  I function best when things are reasonably tidy.  I’m not sure this is as important to the children, but regardless, when my bristles get up about the disarray of our living space, I inadvertently pass on my frustration to the children – no matter how much I think I’m being calm and in control of myself about it!

So how can I maintain the level of cleanliness that I need to function properly without forcing my ideals onto my children?  Trying to ‘make them’ clean up is an ineffective strategy anyway – it inevitably becomes a power struggle and justly so.  Whenever I feel I should do something, it usually creates resistance or at best an anxious feeling of malcontent.  Insisting children should keep the house in a certain way is sourced from my own set of values I’m imposing on my children.  While I understand that my role as a mother is ultimately to instill values in my children, I also have to take pause to question just how much more of me they really need!

On the other hand,  I do need their cooperation since I can’t do everything for everyone.  This is not in anyone’s best interest.  I need to feel supported and not taken advantage of.  I need to feel that we are functioning as a community.  I need to protect my own sanity.  So I must set limits for myself.  Clear, healthy limits of what I can accept and not accept.  But setting limits for myself does not mean that I should to impose them onto someone else.

Then there is also my desire for them to learn how to do chores.  I want their autonomy to include the ability to do whatever task they need to with confidence because they have been shown how.  Ultimately I wish for them to find joy in the work.  The idea is to plant the seeds of how a tidy house feels and tend them, in hopes that they will grow a family who also is compelled to join in the work too. I will often ask questions before and after cleaning to raise awareness in my children about the look and feel of the space.  They are often surprised by how their mood is lifted when we tidy up.  Like my recent post called Perceptions of Work, it is when I am able to approach the work with a joyously open heart that it becomes a desirable activity for all of us.

So what exactly does a balance look like?  I see it as the coming together of when I am able to get the help I need (however limited) to feel supported and get the work done and the children are not begrudgingly carrying out tasks I demand them to complete.  Perhaps a first step to achieve balance is to look at my own expectations…what is it that I really need to get done?  What things do I think I need to get done because of feeling judged or scrutinized for it.  My house will not be perfect because I have three little souls growing inside these walls.  Gardening humans is messy business.  I often use the strategy of saying something like, ‘I cannot do this until that is done.’  They will sometimes pitch in to help me, because they want to get to the next thing.  But sometimes not.  In my reading about attachment parenting and RIE, I often come across the reassuring statements that children want to do what we’re doing.  As humans we want to fit into our society.  So as soon as conflict and the energy bound up in a power struggle are gone, suddenly the possibility to work together arises.  When the children have enough autonomy to feel they are choosing to participate, things work much better.  This is what cooperation is.  When I can stop clinging to old ideals and control, new potentials open up.  I question what possibilities for enjoyment of chores and work am I cutting off because of the language I’m using – both for myself and my children.  What difficulties am I creating in my relationship with my children because I am expecting them to perform a certain way?  How do I balance the needs of myself, the household and my children?

So what am I left with in my toolbox then if I don’t enforce their participation?  I want to integrate, not segregate.  I know that establishing rhythm and leading by example works.  So how do I weave these pieces together to find something that works?

Out of necessity due to a small entryway, we have a rhythm to entering our house.  I installed hooks at the children’s height and gave each child a cubbyhole for their shoes/boots and another for accessories (hats, mitts, splash pants, etc.)  They are expected to put away their things before entering the home.  They do.  I do.  It’s just what we do.  So how do I transfer this to the whole house?  I find this question to overwhelm me quickly.  I have observed that if I let up on my rhythms for a day or two, suddenly everything seems to erupt.  I think that having a house wide tidy up, A quick five minute overhaul of the floors and surfaces to clear the debris, just before mealtimes could work nicely.  I’ve tried this before, but haven’t been regular with it.  The key for the children is predictability.  The key for me is to not expect or enforce participation.  If I take the attitude that tidying is what is being done at that time and that dinner will be served when the work is done, I don’t think it will take too long to become ‘normal.’  Building this into our regular routine would help it to just be part of what we do.

Growing

How the plants make it look so effortless.  They push with ease thought thick soil and rocks, heavy and compacted from winter’s weighty presence.  Foliage pronounces itself just by being.  There are no grand ceremonies for their change.  They come and fill their full potential just by awakening to the world above the earth.  Not only do they willingly embrace their life’s purpose, but they do so with unabashed determination.  Growing through and around obstacles, they stretch toward the sun.

Trees are not slowed by man made blockades but grow to embrace them instead.  They get to see all four seasons above ground awaken and grow year after year.  They don’t stop to question the process or resist for reasoms of personal overwhelm.  Somehow they call upon their invisible stores of energy to change again, grow again, blossom again, and leaf out again.  How I wish change of self could come so freely.  So naturally.

Swarming

We have had a few frames from a friend’s hive from last year sitting on our back deck for a few weeks now.  They have been awaiting our attention to process their wax to be used for sealing in the spawn during our mushroom cultivating efforts.  This passive act of silently awaiting its purpose, or at least the limited one we had planned for it, became much more than we could have hoped for, as the mix of honey, wax and honeycomb attracted a swarm.

My writing teacher has been actively looking for a swarm this spring.  Her colony of bees did not make it through this last and most harsh winter.  Knowing this, Rob emailed her to inform her of our visitors.  By the time we figured out what to do with them however, the swarm had vacated for the evening, seeking shelter during the cooler temperature of the late spring afternoon.  It was with disappointment that I had to confess we would not be delivering her bees that night.

The following day, as the children and I planted in some strawberry pups, we noticed that the bees were congregating again!  This time, I took quicker action and covered the swarm, hoping to trap as many as possible.  With all but a tiny space covered by a screen, the bees gave off an audible hum of life.  They were so serene and such a pleasure to have around.  The children and I passed through their congregation many times, as the pile of honey filled wax had been placed near our back door for convenience.  They were hard at work busily foraging for sustenance in the hexes created by another swarm’s efforts.

These bees were so wanted – and they came as though they knew it.  Softly, and warmly in the mid morning sun.  They gathered on my back porch, not knowing the depth of sweetness they would bring.  With synchronicity, I was scheduled to attend my writing workshop last night.   The bees were carefully concealed in our weekly organic fresh food delivery box.  Trundling toward the car whilst gingerly holding the box of swarm away from my body, I was surprised to feel tiny legs crawl across my fingers.  The lid was not as well sealed as anticipated and few bees had emerged onto my hand.  In my hasty determination to be on time for my writing workshop, I hadn’t really considered the magnitude of what I was carrying and was shocked by their touch and dropped the whole lot.  “Fresh Box” indeed.  Thankfully the lid remained in tact and so did the swarm.  After some help from Rob and the children to fetch the roll of painter’s tape, and secure the perimeter of the box, I attempted another departure.

Driving with a  swarm of bees in your backseat is an exhilarating experience.  Especially once I was cognizant of their powerful presence.  It was hard for me to stop checking my rear-view mirror.  Relief came as I pulled in front of their destination – alive and with no visible signs of insect-life.  I passed through the latched gate and into the serene yard where these bees would now reside.  The gardens were lovingly tended and bursting with new life.  I set them down next to the hive that would soon become home.

With the box safely delivered I headed inside to join the group for our circle.  The first assignment was to write about something in the yard that caught our attention.  I had no difficulty bringing something to mind.  Rather than wander outdoors, I took time to sit and recognize the frantic buzzing happening inside myself.  I was humming with my own intensity from the evening’s events.  As the bees lay waiting outside in the box, growing drowsy with the evening’s cold, with a few deep breaths I began to steady myself.  My own intensity was mellowed to a low drone.  I came home to myself.  It was then that I wrote part of what became this post…

The Push and Pull of Community

“The healthy social life is found, when in the mirror of each human soul, the whole community finds its reflection, and when in the community, the virtue of each one is living.”

~Rudolf Steiner

As I was writing my post yesterday about parenting from the heart, I recalled the piece I wrote at my first writer’s circle last week.  I have been pondering the idea of love and have come to the conclusion that is not a simple one.  I have been exploring its polarizing aspects.  Full love, true love, deep love, includes boundless beauty, but also many unsavory bits.  Love is what binds life together into a journey worth taking.  I have edited the original version slightly, but here it is:

When people join together, something new is formed.  The mixing of experiences, beings and energies creatively combine into something different.  This couldn’t be more true than it is with my family.  I am new because of the living I’m doing in community with my children and husband.  We’ve become so intertwined.  There are depths to our knowing of each other that cannot be understood by our minds.  Patterns of falling into each other and repelling again.  But after each cycle of push and pull, we are all changed for it.  Like re-calibrating the poles of a magnet – we are drawn in and push apart in an act of nature beyond our control.

My deep rooted connection to them cannot allow me to be totally lost despite sometimes feeling the need for distance between us.  I sometimes crave autonomy.  But I can never really be alone.  My need for space exists because of our relationship with each other.  Definition of myself is always anchored by knowing who I am in relation to the loves of my life.  Every time I push away, the poles of my magnet flip and I’m saved from myself – brought back to the wholeness of our family nest.  They are part of who I am.  Their pull is greater than my own strength.  I cannot wander too far.

Pulling myself back into alignment with togetherness, to something greater than myself, is actually what is allowing me to know myself.  Moments of repulsion have the ability to teach me who I am.  With each flip of the poles, my influences are broadening.  Likewise so are the ripples of change I create.  I send out myself while receiving others, then send out a new self, receiving again.  For a cycle of growth that is never solely my own.

Connection is such a simple idea but so difficult in practice.  I miss so many opportunities because I’m just not present enough to fully hear.  I miss making eye contact, or don’t really listen with my full self.  In my absence from our togetherness, I am lost.  I am missing to my loved one, but also absent to myself.  I am missing the chance to catch my own reverberations.

My inner strength is heavy and of the earth.  Iron courses my veins, holding its invisible magnetic power to draw in and push out.  Opening to the polarities in life, in both its attractive and repulsive states, is what allows me to grow.  What allows all of us to grow.