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One Week

 

Let me offer you a glimpse of a week at the Central Vermont High School Initiative.

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The ninth grade students, in the final week of their main lesson block on Geology took to the road and spent the last week in the white mountains, hiking and rock climbing, with their Main Lesson teacher Melissa Grella and our outdoor education intern Elliot LaCroix. The Main Lesson is characteristic of Waldorf education where the first part of each day for a period of 3-4 weeks is devoted to a deep and integrated study of a topic that may engage more than one discipline. Geology study for instance involved experimentation, research, writing, artistic presentation and of course, outdoor education.

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The ninth graders returned to the Stokes building at Goddard College on Thursday afternoon where the 10th grade had prepared a meal for entire school and their families under the guidance and support of Crystal Madeira, the chef owner of Kismet in Montpelier who is helping craft community meals as a cornerstone of health education for CVHSI. Following the meal the 10th graders performed The Oresteia, from the Agamemnon trilogy in the Pratt Center.

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On Friday, 9th and 10th grade students toured the Vermont State House and Kismet, Crystal’s nearby restaurant. While I marvel at each and every moment of this thoughtful education in deep gratitude, there was one particular moment at Kismet when I became overwhelmed with the realization that this one week had in it every thing that I could hope for an adolescent to learn. Crystal Madeira was offering the students a tour of her restaurant. She shared her dream for a complete dining experience of trusting that your food has been grown with care and attention, experiencing the art of food preparation, facilitating a relaxed and beautiful dining atmosphere, and succeeding in business. In response to a question from a student Crystal described what it was like to lose her business to a flood twice in one year. At one point she observed that the only obstacle she really faced was doubt. In the end, she described, “Kismet” means kiss of God, or good karma returned. She and her restaurant thrive on trusting that pursuing their deepest values and embodying them in work will create the life she is choosing to live.   

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This is a “how to” article for creating mother/daughter and father/son group experiences. Creating these events enhances the mentoring of young adolescents as they begin to have exposure to adult experiences, emotions and physical changes and strengthens the social health of the class or group. At our very first Parent Evening in First Grade at the Orchard Valley Waldorf School, our class teacher suggested that we consider ourselves aunties and uncles to one another’s children. She articulated that the development of our relationship as adults would have a palpable affirmative influence on the social health of the children and enhance her success in teaching them. Often children learn by looking sideways at how others live, what their careers might involve, their diets and religions, and all manner of things. Hilary Clinton was not the first to note that “it takes a village” to raise a child, though her publicity of it was a good indicator of a powerful growing awareness in human consciousness, the power of the vehicle of relationship in education. Many indigenous tribes hand on critical survival information through the interwoven and consistent relationships of mentors of many different ages within the tribal community. Jon Young has made a comprehensive and careful articulation of this phenomenon and is applying it to restoring our relationship to the natural world all over the country. In addition, The Center for Social Sustainability specifically recommends this kind of conscious interaction between adults and adolescents to reduce delinquent behaviors and to enhance social inclusion within classes in schools.

“It was a nice way to get to know parents of my classmates” Mary Perchlik
“a really good way to connect with my classmates and have fun as group outside of school”
Tahla Woodnim

Our class, now entering the 8th grade, initiated the simple gesture of creating a mother/daughter and father/son camp out when our children entered the 6th grade.  We determined immediately that in order to advance our intention to strengthen the social fabric of the class we needed to design particular elements to our valuable time together.  This is a basic layout with practical details.

“Our intention was for the fathers present to share stories with the boys about our awkward experiences in puberty in an effort to demystify that very challenging time for the boys, and to try and break the perception of a barrier between our experiences and theirs. We, afterall, had many of the same embarrassing moments in our youths as they are having now.” Ward Joyce

It is very important to welcome the fathers of daughters in the group to the father son events and the mothers of sons to the mother daughter events.  Over the course of our meetings we have shared stories about physical changes, sexuality, keeping and breaking confidences, and other complex topics.  We notice that very often the “auntie” of a son or the “uncle” of a daughter can be good candidate for initiating a new topic.  The value of their participation and input is vital to the experience and deepens the social health of the group as a whole, recognizing the other half of the class and building relationships to those others through their adult mentors.

It is worth establishing a core group of 2-3 parents who hold this event and maintain a consciousness toward the distinctness of the opportunity so that the best use of the time occurs. Specifically the purpose is creating opportunities for deeper relationship and connection.  Otherwise the time can drift into parents chatting in one area and young people off at play in another area, which is of course also an essential part.  However, there should be some parents who are holding the awareness of the time, who move the group into specific opportunities during the time together.

“I love witnessing a group of girls sitting in the safe space of a circle of older women, and to watch this unfolding like a flower opening.” Kate Burnim

Ask around the parent group to see if someone in the group has experience facilitating group conversations or even specifically experience with a “talking stick.”  It is best to utilize the full parent group and not only rely on known teachers if they happen to be in the group.  This awakens the awareness of the adolescents that other adults have a wealth of experiences to share and makes those adults known and more accessible as mentors. It also allows the teachers that may be in the group to be known as women and mothers  or men and fathers and not always by their role in the school.  The talking stick is a very simple tradition used in many indigenous cultures where everyone agrees to be silent unless they are holding the talking stick.  Any item can be used.  It is like being handed a microphone.  Each person has air time with the talking stick and they may choose to speak or they may choose to hold the item in silence if they do not wish to speak, holding the silence for as long as they would like just as if they were speaking.  The facilitator explains that this kind of sharing welcomes participants to speak form the heart and asks the members of the group to practice listening without judgment.  A smudging stick may also be used by the facilitator as he or she explains the use of the talking stick.  Smudging is the passing of a smoldering smudge stick usually made of cedar and sage wound tightly together.  The smudge stick is passed from one person to the next, each person uses it to smudge the next person in the circle by moving the smoking stick around their body as if they were giving them a bath in smoke.There are many traditional reasons for the use of the smudge stick known and unknown. For the purposes of this meeting it can be a way of marking in a sensory way the entrance into a new kind of conversation.  The facilitator will describe that the conversation that we are convening in the circle is sacred or distinctive from typical conversations.  Any question is welcome and what is spoken in the circle remains in the circle.  These are the essentials.

  1. Set a date at least 2 months in advance avoiding significant busy times of the year and make a reservation if needed at a camp ground.   If you decide to camp out, most camp grounds close in early October so it is best to set the date during the summer with any shared calendar such as a school calendar in hand.  You could also camp at someone’s home or on some other land that may be available in your community.  Summertime can be a challenging time to gather everyone together, though it can work.  You could also host a slumber party at someone’s home which can be effective in the deep winter months.
  2. Food and support. In the email announcing the date, list the meals you will be planning for and ask people to sign up for specific items. You may wish to ask someone to take responsibility for a fire, for arranging for the wood and tending it during the event.  It might be worthwhile to invite one person to take a few photos so that the group can have some reminders of the time together.  You might remind people what features are available at the campground you select and ask people to bring canoes or other equipment if desired.  Someone might also bring materials for some handwork project or a guitar and songbook for singing.  All of these things can be the different ways that parents participate in holding the event.
  3. After your initial gathering and arrival you may allow the time for meal preparing to be a time for hanging out.  Someone might bring a craft activity that can be brought out at that time also, often times handwork projects can continue throughout the conversation. Some mothers brought materials to make snow flakes that were used to decorate the school for an upcoming event.  If there is canoeing available nearby those who would like to do that could go out and do that.

    handwork activities support the atmosphere of the gathering

  4. After the meal it is time to gather the circle. If there is a dessert item it is worth serving the dessert before entering into the circle since some people will find it very distracting, or plan something that can be eaten during the circle, like s’mores around the fire, rather than something that requires everyone to get up. To welcome everyone into this new way of being together you might have someone play a flute or a drum or begin singing a round and gesture the group toward an area where they will form a circle around a fire or in a living room.  The facilitator will welcome the group and begin to explain smudging or the talking stick or any other essentials to the process.  Essential is that the conversation is confidential, that this is intended to be a safe place to express questions, feelings and experiences openly and reminding everyone that any question is welcome.   The smudging begins and or the item is passed.  The first round is often a welcoming round where people express curiosity and gratitude for being together.  Many parents take the time to express their dream for participating in the event.  They might say,”I had many questions when I was your age and I often didn’t know who to ask” or “I’m grateful to see that you have a group of adults who you can turn to for support.”

    “At any time you can approach any one of us to call together a circle even if you don’t know why and we will come together in this way.”

    Several times throughout the overall time together and during the circle it is important to repeat, “At any time you can approach any one of us to call together a circle even if you don’t know why and we will come together in this way.”  The conversation quite naturally evolves for many rounds.  In the 6th grade parents might share memories of noticing their bodies change, or the first time they felt the spark of a crush.  The mother group specifically began a conversation about menstruation which deepened with each meeting. In the father group, some fathers shared their first experiences of arousal which can be as startling for boys as the onset of menstruation is for girls.  One parent might share a story from their life when they were that same age or describe questions or concerns that they had.  Nothing need be specifically planned though those who are holding the event may want to converse  in advance about what themes they notice arising in the group or even talk to the teacher to see if there are any themes the event might support.  The rounds with the talking stick can go deep into the night.  Even if there are moments where several people pass the stone or the stick, continue and allow the silence and the intentions to emerge.  This way of being together often is new to many of the adults as well as the youth. There will always be some that experience some discomfort  and others who are hungering for this experience.  It is worth the effort to allow a skilled facilitator to hold these dynamics.  Any topic that arises becomes a topic that the youth are learning they may address to any member of the group so consider what stories from your own life might be fruitful to introduce.  Depending on how long the circle continues there may be time afterwards for singing before bed.  Also, some individuals may wish to continue a smaller conversation with those interested and that is a perfect flow of events.

  5. Bead Ceremony. The following day after breakfast it can be a nice gesture to give each of the young people a bead on a string. One parent might take this on as their contribution to select and introduce the beads and offer suggestions about what the bead might represent.

    one parent may provide a bead as a reminder of the event

    A red garnet, a rose quartz. Perhaps there is a general theme from the visit that can be remembered by the bead.  This is also a good time to remind everyone that a circle can be called together at any time, simply by asking any of the adults in the group to bring a group together, even if they don’t have a particular reason.  Someone might play a flute or a drum or lead a song to open the circle and welcome the group to from the chatter of the breakfast.  The group can also close in the same way.  The bead ceremony is a nice way to close the overall event.  People may remain together and go on a hike or go canoeing or take up other games.  Providing a point of closure helps people to depart when they may need to, knowing they were present for the moments that were intended for the group.  Often it is very difficult to gather people together.  Though everyone wants to support their young people, so many commitments can divert attention.  This is why it is well worth the preparation to craft the time together and bring it to a palpable closing.

MAY THE CIRCLE BE OPEN BUT UNBROKEN

It all started with a decision to take up personal spiritual and emotional healing work with Allan Hardman.  I discovered Allan as part of my work becoming certified as a Birthing From Within childbirth mentor.  His book, The Everything Toltec Wisdom Book was recommended reading and I picked it up at a Birthing From Within event and soon after joined his online apprenticeship community.

In the process of becoming a mother, helping create a Waldorf School in our community, and then beginning to work in childbirth I was aware that I was moving from a source of intuition that was not within my conscious awareness and I recognized a call to go deeper.  Right away I noticed that my apprenticeship with Allan was going to be a high priority and was going to have impacts on my family life.  My husband Andy and I decided to attend Allan’s Valentine’s retreat on conscious relationship in Mexico, a dream vacation where we could all meet Allan in person and both my husband and I could understand the scope of his work.

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Our family with Allan Hardman (left) in Mexico.

Allan offers 5 agreements for conscious relationship. Right away agreement #2 sort of hung dreadfully in the room even at a Mexica beach.

#2 “The truth is more important than the outcome of the relationship”

What truth? Which truth?  Whose truth?

One important aspect of “the truth” that Allan shares is that the only truth we can know is what is true for us.  Since everything we sense and know comes to us through the filters of our own awareness the only truth we can know is our own distinct truth, influenced and limited by our sense perceptions.  We can learn to recognize signs in our emotional and physical bodies that reflect our likes and dislikes and honor this “truth”.  As we learn to honor this truth with ourselves and move without attachment to the outcome we become the artist of our life, our very nature, the messenger of life.

My husband and I had never done any counseling, no therapy, NADA. Neither of us had ever participated in a support group either.  It suddenly felt threatening, even in a Mexican paradise to be sitting with a group of strangers and sharing this “truth.”  With a big Mexican sun shining on my fear of what might or might not be true it was hard to recognize the signs in my emotional and physical body other than signs of potentially hazardous terrors of the unknown.

We could all agree that we like the beach, the food and Chacala. Whew!  The sweet community there was a dream come true for us. We brought a beloved sitter from home to allow my husband and I to take in the teaching and to make our overall vacation more relaxing and enjoyable.  Mexico is very inexpensive so adding another body to our family was not a financial burden at all.  Our sitter was a neighbor who had supported us for many years when the children were young.  She was now graduating and leaving and this was a perfect send off, a dream vacation for each one of us.

Once I sorted through my fear of worse case scenario dislikes that my husband might suddenly share with the group, I finally discerned some real questions.  My prior work as Allan’s apprentice had also shed some light on memories from my early life that I had never told my husband about and I found a way to speak to him for the first time about how some frightening events in my childhood had haunted and limited my life.  This was one truth that became available to me. Sharing my new awareness was some of the deepest sharing of our marriage.

It wasn’t until our return from paradise that some more practical truths began to emerge.  After 10 or more years of marriage  and mothering it became undeniable that my truth had become “I don’t want to cook. I am tired of housework.”

Perhaps I needn’t have gone all the way to Mexico to meet a “nagual” or Toltec spirit man to learn that I am tired of doing dishes.  That is what was needed for my truth to emerge because like many people I had been living through an identity of unconscious agreements that made it impossible for me to honor my truth, even a truth as mundane as “I don’t want to scrub these pans.” Most of us walk around in masks that we believe are true. We create an identity that the world approves of whether or not it is true.  For women and mothers this identity can become hollow and build up years of unspoken resentments that we then blame on ourselves and others. Instead of honoring the truth of who we are, we defend and judge what we are not and build an identity out of that that we know to be life.

It may seem a common complaint, “I’m tired of doing these dishes,”  but once I discerned that this was true for me, I admit I was afraid of what outcome might arise. In the moment of honoring the truth I had no solution, no idea, I had only the unpalatable dislike, “I am tired of cooking.”  As part of my truth honoring or self loyalty that became “I am not doing all the cooking anymore.”  Simply stopping doing something in the moment I am aware that I do not like doing it is a vital first step I learned in getting in touch with my truth.

Well everyone tried to help.  My husband agreed to do more of the cooking and etc. and so on.  The children took on preparing some meals.  We tried doing take out one night a week when it became clear that my husband’s professional life did not allow him the time to cook much either. Still listening for my truth, I was not liking take out food either.  Being organic foodies, I was aware that this one $75 meal for our family of 5 had no organic ingredients.  There must be a better way!

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One crucial truth of this whole story is that my truth is mine alone.  Though I was tired of cooking, the quality and nutritional content of our food was a very important priority that I realized also colored my truth.  It could not be transferred to my husband or anyone else.  Try as they might to help me, my truth was also that I cared in a very particular way about our food and nutrition and so honoring my truth did not amount to setting it on someone else.

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Our daughter took on her own exploration of cooking with tofu, in a deeper embrace of her vegetarian values and preferences.

This is the moment of truth one could observe.  My truth is the only truth I can know and I am the only one who is responsible for it.  As I sorted through the masks and identities I had formerly believed were my truth, the helper mask, the good mother mask, the martyr mask, and looked into the bald unknown of “I don’t want to help” “I’m tired of being good” “I’m done with self sacrifice” I made some of the most profound discoveries and life began this unstoppable momentum toward creative action.

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My husband and son took on this project of apple dumplings inspired by a recipe in Cook’s Illustrated. Subscribing to this wonderfully written, beautifully illustrated and Vermont produced magazine has done wonders for developing my husbands interest and capacity in the kitchen.

When, without a solution, I simply honored “I ain’t doin’ it” I found that I was magnetically compelled to play my guitar and piano, a few insignificant hobbies I had stuffed into a closet.  I further observed that my truth still passionately cared for the food on our table and my musical interest required attention to creating a room in the house where my musical instruments and equipment could be easily found.  Just in that moment as that thought emerged while walking along, my eyes fell on a flier for Simplicity Parenting.  I found that the Simplicity Parenting book and tools became stepping stones I needed to declutter my house, build communication in our home and dream a family life that was attentive to my truth. Within the next several months our family together crafted a schedule and menu plan that incorporated all of our dietary needs, likes and dislikes and brought us all into an awareness of our responsibility for the food that sustains us.

Suddenly amidst all of this moving energy the thought emerged, what If I could just hire someone to come and cook the meals I want with ingredients that I provide?  Could it be possible that I am a candidate for a personal chef?  I emailed a local culinary institute to see if there was a student that would like the employment opportunity.  Originally I thought he might whip us up a lasagna once a week until he explained to me that with that $75 I was paying for the weekly take out, he could prep 4-5 days worth of meals for me.  Kits he would prep for soups, breakfast meals, enchiladas… stowed in the frig largely prepared and easily whipped into meals within 30 minutes.

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Jon Garrow, our student chef from the New England Culinary Institute. Jon has recently completed his schooling and is moving on with his professional life. His time in our home educated all of us about the best equipment, menu planning and prep work allowing everyone to participate in our family menu.

Why hadn’t I ever thought of this before?  As long as I was believing the good mother martyr mask that was applied to my face with superglue, it was an answer that was impossible to consider, seek or find.  As it turns out, I was a dream come true for this student who didn’t want a future as a line cook working nights. This young man envisions offering personal chef services to families, providing solid nutrition with daytime hours. As a result of the job with our family, he redirected his schooling lowering the cost of his education. With my heart at rest and the satisfaction of solid fresh food available through his services I was able to take my Childbirth and Parenting Classes to a new level of organization and success in part by creating my own website, Vermont Seeds of Love.  The whole picture of my growing awareness of my truth and the identities I often believe that hide that truth from me has led me to strengthening and healing my body, improving my diet, organizing  my home, crafting work in alignment with my deepest inspirations for strengthening family life in love, improving communication with my husband and children, and perhaps most joyfully,  producing 2 new CDs of my original music soon to be released.

So let me offer you one easy exercise that can show you what might be true for you.  Start like this, take out a piece of paper and imagine you are telling me all the reasons why you could never have a personal chef. Tell me why you don’t need one, why it would never work for you, how you can’t afford it…When you are finished look at them and allow yourself to imagine for a moment that none of them are true at all.  They are only stories you are believing. Now, write a new story.

I had looked at the four temperaments with some resistance, and even a mild contempt.  For as long as I can remember, I have had a sort of oppositional reaction to being cast into a Meyers-Brigg category, a sun sign, and now this.  The Native American medicine wheel was the one insightful gesture that had opened my heart at all to the four temperaments.  Since they are often depicted in a circular mandala described with the elements of earth, water, air and fire, I was provoked to consider what might occur if I stepped into the circle.

I am probably not the only parent who has a reaction when we believe a Waldorf faculty member begins to pigeon hole our child as something like….phlegmatic.  Wait a minute!  My child doesn’t spit up globs of phlegm!  What are you talking about?

The four temperaments are a tool or mandala described by Steiner for use by Waldorf teachers.  They were not created by Steiner, but come from ancient Greece.  Waldorf teachers use the mandala of the four temperaments to characterize spiritual qualities, universal temperaments, or energies embodied in the being of each of us and more visible in developing children.  These foundational orientations offer insight into how to ignite the gifts of each child, and how to enhance group dynamics or meet challenges in class.

Meditation on the four temperaments imbues many elements of Waldorf pedagogy.  For example, the four basic math functions are often presented to the children using charismatic characters. Tommy  Times, embodying the “sanguine” temperament, is a quick moving, highly sociable fellow.  Molly Minus, the “melancholic”, always notices the plights of the weaker creatures rescuing worms from puddles and sorrowful for those who were lost.  Polly Plus, the “phlegmatic” is always ready for one more snack and happy to sit and daydream.  Finally, Darren Divide, the “choleric”, forever concerns himself with things being distributed equally, and is intent to take on the job of being certain this is done with force if needed.

These orientations characterized in any Waldorf first grade are so innately human they are inherent in the basic functions of mathematics.  You can’t change Molly Minus into Polly Plus, but rather prepare yourself to meet Molly and Polly and each of them accepting that they are not blank slates.  They come not only with distinctive cultural, genetic, and biographical characteristics, but an elemental design as well. Wrapped within each are gifts waiting for a beholder.  How do we approach them so they may express their gifts to us?

How do we approach them so they may express their gifts to us?

I was unable to meet the wisdom of the four temperaments for many years.  As I mentioned I had a defensive reaction toward my children being identified with a label.  I also had a struggle with identifying my own temperament which was a distracting pursuit of its own.  I would often argue within myself over the labels I assumed each teacher was fixing on me or my children.  If I identified with one, I often found that I assumed I was better off staying with people within my category who theoretically I could understand and they could understand me.  All of this was very difficult of course because I could never settle on a category in the first place.  I think she is that.  I could be that too. All concluding in frustration “what is the point of this?”

Toltec teaching, which is a spiritual wisdom from Central Mexico, describes the “petty tyrant” which is the tool that brought me over the river to seeing what the mandala of the four temperaments really has to offer me.

Perhaps the way to begin working with the four temperaments is to ask oneself, “which one am I NOT?”  For even though I could see how I embodied three of the four quite easily, there was one category that I wanted NOTHING to do with.  The teaching of the petty tyrant is to become aware of those people and things in our life that we are NOT!  When we react strongly, “I am nothing like that!” we are seeing ourselves casting judgment on the world.  Usually we have a very strong opinion about it making it easier to spot.  When we are casting judgment we are not in a state of love or acceptance and suffering is bound to follow.  In terms of working with children who will represent all the temperaments to us either as parents or teachers, if we notice immediately that we are not melancholic for example, then we can see that children expressing those characteristics  in our care will require greater attention because they will continually cause us to react in judgment.

The other teaching of the petty tyrant is that the attention such a child will demand of us when they reflect our petty tyrant, embodying something that we are NOT,  is attentiveness within ourselves to the part of ourselves that we will not allow to express these qualities.  Study of the petty tyrant has brought me to the realization that the journey of life is not to remain comfortable in circles of like characteristics, but to journey around the whole wheel of life.  We form what we call “right” and “wrong” in the context of our domestication which is a Toltec term used to describe how we adapt to life in our cultural, biographic, religious, geographic, political … setting.  At some point in time we have made a decision that it is wrong to be bossy or to dress flamboyantly, or to demand attention, or to complain for example.  When we accept the part of ourselves that wants these things, that is these things we have formerly named “wrong”,  just like the petty tyrant standing before us, the petty tyrant will no longer provoke a reaction or challenge us.

the petty tyrant will no longer provoke a reaction or challenge us

In other words, if we react to someone harshly who eats too much for example, it probably means that we are very attentive about our eating and rarely allow ourselves an extra bite.  If a child who complains drives us crazy, it is probably because we learned not to complain and don’t allow ourselves to express our complaints.   We see reflected in the petty tyrant what we never allow ourselves, what we have banished to the shadows within ourselves. As we learn to see that self we can claim another part of ourself at the same time as freeing ourself from the suffering mind of judging.

The petty tyrant reveals to us what we don’t accept, what we don’t love. Often we feel a sharp distaste with greater speed and acumen than we describe the many things we like.  Experiencing a strong dislike also heightens our awareness of what we do like and can help us to form language, or even learn to use tools banished to the shadows to seek what we like.  What we judged formerly as a complaint, can become a new skill at learning to ask for help when needed. We learn to build a relationship with our banished self  in the light of awareness and consciousness.

The reason that Steiner recommended the mandala of the four temperaments was to assist teachers in creating a loving learning environment.  A loving environment is an environment that accepts all that comes into it, whether or not we “like” it.  We accept when we are not judging. When we accept the over eater, the complainer, the fighter, the flighty talker, we do so in part because we accept that part of ourselves. In that place of self acceptance love simply breathes and reigns with grace and ease.

I was fully engaged in a Waldorf School for several years yet still unable to grasp what was meant by “the etheric body.”  “It’s the feeling body” the teachers would say matter of factly as if that explained everything, “you know the part of us that has feelings.”

Maple shares her completion of a routine handwork project from first grade

Rudolf Steiner, the founder of the Waldorf Schools described that a physical body without an “etheric body” is a corpse.  The “etheric” or “feeling” body animates our physical body.  Later as my children became students in the grades, the teachers further elaborated that the grades years are when we build the “etheric” body, the “feeling” body, the “life” body, the “habit” body.  “Wait a minute?” I said to myself, “what do habits have to do with feelings?”

Within fifteen minutes of my first encounter by telephone with my Toltec teacher I could sense immediately and exactly the presence and spectrum of my “etheric” body.   Without even speaking of it in these terms, suddenly in his witnessing presence, all of my feelings were alive, awake and present to both of us.  This seer saw not the exterior identity that I set out, but the hidden inner landscape of how that exterior formed. After three years of deep personal work in his care, I now clearly see the relationship between feelings and habits.

Nothing that we learn or remember occurs outside of relationship. Infants and young children are completely dependent upon their relationships with care providers for survival.  Within the context and conditions of each relationship habits form that will offer them attention, or support them in the absence of attention. What we remember and how well we remember it arise in feelings that emerge in the context of our relationships.

Toltec Wisdom teaches us that human beings in the dream of the first attention become domesticated. We enter the world in communion with all of life, unnamed and without knowledge.  In the dream of the first attention the human family domesticates us into the agreements of the human family as described and transferred by many distinctive cultural and geographic settings. We agree to language, we agree to table manners, to religion, diplomacy…

We begin open and in communion with the entire universe and in our growth we become differentiated. We come to see ourselves as distinct individuals.  Yet most of that individuality is a response to our domesticating environment: Yes I agree to be a fan of the Red Sox, No I do not agree to eat kale.

Our agreement is not a free choice because we are helpless infants or young children imitating others and willing to agree to anything in order to belong and meet our need to survive.  Yet these agreements we carry forward, often forming into an identity that we know as our adult life.

Our etheric body then becomes the entirety of the emotional environment in which we agreed one by one to reflect the culture, language, body, religion, career …that we reflect.  Each etheric body is actually formed in the context of outdated agreements. Rules of grammar, manners, culture, health and even religion, are constantly in a state of flux.  As parents we do our best to offer our child a menu of agreements that will serve them we hope. Of course we cannot see the the future  where are children are bound and so we are always preparing them under assumptions that the future will continue to honor the agreements of the past.

In some situations the conditions of our own domestication when we were young can inflame anxiety and distress. This anxiety can fog our relationships in the present and can influence the priority of the agreements that we offer our children. This can also create a feeling of unhappiness or lack of enjoyment toward the tasks involved in parenting our children or strong feelings of fear that do not correspond with events in the present.

Most of us are not aware of the relationship to fear that each agreement holds within it, because we may have adopted agreements that granted us “success” in our lives. We may have walked a path of agreements that provided a stream of approval for our choices which we often take personally and attribute to ourselves.  Others may have formed habitual agreements that framed and built an identity of constant disapproval and rejection.

Toltec tools offer a very simple pathway into, around and through our etheric body.  In this scavenger hunt we learn to recognize  the agreements that formed our habitual responses to life and relationships. Equipped with this detailed awareness freedom becomes an option. In addition to the freedom we may reach for ourselves, in our work as parents, bringing our domesticating agreements into our awareness offers us a window to our chidlren in the present.  We can have the opportunity to be fully present with our children unplugged or at least aware of our formative agreements, rather than operating repetitiously from an unconscious program of mostly outdated beliefs.

Let me offer a simple example.  In part from the awareness I have gained from my own Toltec investigation of my etheric body, I was able to leap into a life long dream and our family purchased a horse.  I discovered that I had many agreements that were holding back the manifestation of this dream. “You have to be a horse person.” “Horses are expensive.” “Horses are SO much WORK.”  And many others. In the end we have been honored and delighted to welcome Willow into our family, once a wild Mustang.

Willow

In the processof sharing my limited horsemanship skills with my daughter I found myself agitated that she sometimes approached him fom the right and other time approached him from the left.  She even mounted from both sides sometimes.  I was always schooled to do everything from the left side and I felt afraid by watching my daughter’s haphazard approach.  I was taught that horses like habits and they like things to be the same each time.

When I would tell her that I had always learned to approach from the left side, she would say, “why?”  I had to admit I did not know why, yet I was still nervous and unsettled that she did not take my suggestion.  I told her I thought it had to do with horses liking consistency and that they might spook if things were done outside of the routine. Meanwhile she continued to more or less ignore my concerns and our dear Willow seemed fine with any of her approaches.  Every moment that I was worrying, interpreting and just mentally busy processing my anxieties around this I was not present with the enjoyment of my daughter and our horse.

I recently learned from a local horse trainer that the reason we all learned to mount from the left side was that in the time of the cavalry, soldiers wore a saber on their right leg so they had to mount from the left.  “The horse doesnt’ care” she told me. She described that for a long time military men were the most experienced horsemen and so they often were the teachers of horsemanship. She went on to describe many ways in which military culture remains a part of the way people learn to ride and care for horses. “The horse doesn’t care,” and she added” doing things differently actually prevents spooking because the horse becomes accustomed to different approaches. I expose my horse to everything they might encounter to build their confidence.”

This is an example of the way in which a random agreement from the past, in this case the long past, was littering the etheric space between myself and my daughter. If it were an agreement that had more energy or anxiety around it I might have been more insistent with my daughter and I might have even fractured our relationship demanding her compliance with this agreement. Also in this case, it was an agreement from some moment in history that I had maintained unaware with some portion of my life force. It likely tainted my entire relationship to horses I have ridden. Of course, it propped up a fear rather than advancing loving presence. Toltec wisdom offers precision tools for drilling into the agreements that we maintain with our life energies, offering us the freedom to engage with more love and pursue the dream come true that our life truly is.

Let’s dream love!

Mary and Willow

When we become parents we suddenly feel ourselves wearing an outfit we don’t recognize.  Perhaps we put it off for a while allowing the children to lead the family, being children alongside our children, following them into the glorious kingdom of childhood.  Every now and then however, we find ourselves wearing that awkward new outfit, standing at the doctor’s office asserting our intuitions, or feeling terrorized by their authority and assenting uncomfortably to a treatment that doesn’t feel right for our child.  Perhaps we wear the opposite mask asserting a territorial righteousness that isn’t quite true for us either, allowing no exterior influences to challenge our insights.

we find ourselves wearing that awkward new outfit...

At some point or other we are provoked.  Perhaps it is the responsibility we feel for our child of light.  Perhaps it is the lofty new title of “mother” or “father” to perform for.  Perhaps it is a rebellion toward the childhood we remember.  One way or another, at one moment or the next we find ourselves looking in the mirror and noticing that we have not spent a moment on ourselves in a long time.  Our clothes really look tired. We gaze into the eyes of a picture of ourselves as parents.
The bond with this tiny creature, our infant or child provokes a powerful array of feelings.  Most of us like to call it love, yet it isn’t on particular sensation or feeling.  It is a potency of all feeling, perhaps a heightened sensitivity.  What is that feeling? Is it love?
Recently in working with a father he said, “I can handle all kinds of situations and I am pretty unflappable, but when I come through that door my child can hit my button before both feet are in the door…. It’s fireworks.”  Here they are, new to the planet, unsophisticated they don’t know a thing and yet they sure know us.  Do they?

Do they?

Maybe it isn’t them at all, but instead, our reaction to our own outfit, our assessment of how we measure up to the title of “mother” or “father“.  Our child reflects an image that causes us to judge ourselves. Ouch that button hurts!

We can say, “she really knows how to push my buttons.” Is that true?  Perhaps what is more true is that our child is behaving in a way that diminishes our idea of success in our new role.  We are rookies most of the time. Each time our child hits another developmental stage we are a rookie again. When the next child comes along with a completely different temperament, the rules change again.  We want to believe ourselves somewhat qualified for the job, after all the universe sent us this baby.  Yet the longer we parent the more we realize that there is no gauge available to measure our success.  One moments triumph could easily be interpreted as a later shortcoming.

What is happening when our child  or anyone else “pushes our buttons“?  Is there a sense of rightness or wrongness to it?  When so and so pushes my buttons aren’t they doing something wrong in a way?  If not wrong by law, morals or ethics then just wrong “in our book”?   “She knows that drives me crazy”  Is it she that is driving us crazy? Or is it me seeing a reflection in my child that causes a harsh self judgment to arise within me?  My child is doing something right now that I could never do, that I was taught to hide or deny.  My child is doing something right now that reminds me of a moment or a person from my past.  Isn’t that more true than believing our child has developed an intimate inner agenda meant to torment us?  Take a look.  Remember for a moment the last time you had a strong feeling in reaction to your child.  Look at it carefully. What was the real thing at the core that “hit your button”?  If you could name that button for yourself and put a sticker on it what would it say? Would it include a flashback or instant replay video of a scene from your past?  Perhaps there are a long string of instant replays mixed with decisions that in the end amount to  a cacophony of unpleasant emotions and wind up with “You piss me off!”

When we imagine our child is “pushing our buttons” we are in the act of taking personally their action.  We are believing that they have intentionally aimed their behavior at us and they want us to experience this miserable reaction we are feeling.  We may even begin to associate our child with the original pisser offer from our old home video collection.  How close we are then to declaring war with our child.  Pulling out the histories and playing out the next karmic reaction….

Are you ready for a new dream? I sure am!  Parenting if we allow ourselves, can be a practice of revealing to us our inhibiting self judgments, our limiting judgments of others and then offering ourselves the freedom of release. It is the task of a great inner hunter that takes up this study but hey what else do we have going on laundry, dishes and bills?  This is our parental scavenger hunt and the self acceptance we liberate is the new dream, a dream of love and acceptance of ourselves and the incoming generation.

In a way this is an organizational system for the routine emotions that jump up in our days, a what not shelf for our inner life.  In time you could even fashion a little character or symbol for each reaction and come to recall intimately the landscapes and characters that each symbol holds for you.  The more frequently we can pick up our reaction  and recognize that it has been living in us long before our child, we then take responsibility and allow our child to live without the threatening energies of our unresolved judgments.  We declare peace as the leader of our home and make way for a new dream, an empty space, an opening for ourselves and also for our child. We walk together in acceptance.

It is important to remember to pay attention just as carefully to our “positive” reactions. Notice what makes you feel that you are a “good parent” and consider the same questions.  Where was this outcome qualified for me as “good”?  Who says it is “good”? What would be “bad”?   For our children’s behavior that pushes our “good parent” button is just as heavily loaded as our “bad” button.  For when we strongly guide them to be “good” believing it is a reflection of us then our child grows in the confinement of our approval. Our child learns to live to  please us and our judgments, most of which do not bear a light into the future.

Parenting can be a powerful tool of awareness.  We have all noticed that our children did not come with an operator’s manual so we really can’t do anything “wrong“.  Tracking our inner reactions simply offers us tremendous happiness.  We come to see that what often provokes us is a belief established in the past, according to the rules and associations from that particular past, and now in this moment, we have a fresh new moment, free to accept our urges and enjoy our children’s expression of theirs in perfect harmony.

My Teotihuacan

It was the last day of my pilgrimage within.  This year I created a journey to Teotihuacan here in Vermont to parallel the journey I knew was taking place in Mexico with don Allan Hardman and the joydancers.  The pyramid complex in Mexico is an ancient university of enlightenment where people come from all around to study with the Toltec masters, a bustling city of some 200,000  people  2,000 years ago.   Toltec means artist, and the journey illuminates the light that we came to bring as the perfect ray of love that is our nature.

On the first day the travelers spiritually leap into the mouth of Quetzalcoatl, the 2 headed, feathered serpent – the transformer – and spend the rest of the days being digested and then spit out again, freed of their human form.  During the following days we make a journey down the Avenue of the Dead, in each plaza deepening the awareness of the strategies, habitual feelings and the stories our human form has created to face the fear of arriving in a human form. The journey down the avenue culminates in a ritual at the Pyramid of the Moon where the travelers release an etheric double. This is an embodiment of all the beliefs and agreements we have relied upon to please others, win approval or simply survive in life. We craft this image of ourselves in our imagination as we walk and then release it, opening to the awareness of our spirit selves.

On the final day we make the approach to the Pyramid of the Sun on the Avenue of the Sun which runs perpendicular to the string of plazas along the Avenue of the Dead, passing across. Then the travelers climb the Pyramid of the Sun and at the top experience the true nature of themselves as light and love, some even catapulting to the unmanifest behind the sun or the “black sun” as it is called.

For my Teo here at home, I spent the time I would have been flying to Mexico playing guitar, piano, singing, polishing songs, and contacting other musicians for a recording I am determined to create over the winter. I had left Teo last year making a commitment to honor my music and I have written several new songs in the last year. Still, I often find excuses to put it down, telling myself it isn’t important, who would I sing it for anyway, there is no time for it, etc.

Just like in Teo, the whole universe presented material for my personalized rituals along my Avenue of the Dead within myself here in Vermont.  I cast 23 stones from a nearby cliff representing strategies that no longer work for the life I want to live, and replacing them with new affirmations.  For example I traded in  “don’t complain”  for ” I can ask for what I need and desire” and also, “my body is wrong” for  “my body is perfect as it is.”

I spent my time in “the women’s quarters,” which is a particular place along the Avenue at Teo,  with my 12 year old daughter, her female classmates and their mothers, camping on Kettle Pond, near our home in Vermont, and sharing a “talking rock” which is a stone that we passed around like a microphone, speaking about our lives growing up as girls becoming women. I even experienced myself as light when my joydancer family seemed to burst into my spiritual sight as a geyser of white and lavender colored light.

On the final day I chose to hike Spruce Mountain as my ritual climb of the Pyramid of the Sun at the same time as my joydancer family would be climbing at Teotihuacan.  I drove to the mountain listening to James Nihan singing “I am an artist”.  I entered the gate and remembered when I turned into the gate of the Avenue of the Sun last year, noticing there was a face in the Pyramid of the Sun and heard a voice speak to me, welcoming me.

 

Spruce Mountain, Plainfield Vermont

 

I began my walk through the gate and up my Avenue of the Sun to the shining tree near the crossing with the Avenue of the Dead. I asked the tree to be my witness, and as I made the climb it seemed that I was aware of all the trees and they began to appear as masters teaching me.   I remembered the teaching of don Allan, that we are each a ray of  light.   James Nihan sings it well “there is nothing that you can’t make right with a ray of light”.  I can witness that has been true for me in the outstanding presence of don Allan.  He is a fearless ray of light and he has healed me in so many ways I cannot begin to list them.

 

my Avenue of the Sun

 

I continued my walk wanting to form and release an etheric double with all the limiting agreements that I had named in the days leading up to this.  I noticed that I was discouraged and doubtful about my capacity to do so.  I kept noticing the line from James’ song “I am an artist …I stand before you naked when I complete the task.”  I thought “well that is a big problem for me because there are so many secrets”.  Oh I felt the burden of the secrets, and I had discovered even more secrets.  What I mean is I have noticed in the days leading up to this exercise that I expend an enormous amount of energy every day keeping things secret.  I hide my feelings most of the time.  I keep my songs a secret.  I keep my needs a secret.  I avoid asking help or assistance of anyone.  I keep my menstrual cycle a secret. I try to keep my opinions a secret.  What I want to eat is really secondary to everyone else in my household, a secret even to myself most of the time.

There is so much that is a secret, that really all my life force is turned toward keeping myself hidden most of the time. Yes, that is the grim reality. The truth is that I not only keep my light hidden under a basket I am constantly weaving new baskets so that if the wind blows the old basket off or tears it up I will have another one ready to hide my light.  This is no exaggeration.  I am a pro at putting out my light with self judgments and self rejection.  This is the dream of the planet that is our human plight. And I am a Toltec Warrior swimming upstream in my efforts to redeem myself with a new voice of self acceptance.

I soon easily passed the guard standing at the base of the first ascent. This guard was different then the stern uniformed officers at the Pyramid, it was a shining pillar of a rock that seemed to say “GO FOR IT!”

 

The Guard

 

As I made my way up the first tier I began to consider that all over the planet there are Warriors seeking the light, seeking to know themselves as love.  I looked at the fallen leaves all around me and imagined they were the footsteps of seekers all over the planet.  I imagined that at Mecca, at the wailing wall, at every shrine …. they are all really Toltec Warriors just like me, making the journey to freedom.  And if these leaves were the seekers I imagined these trees, they are all the masters of all time, male and female, come to show us along the path. I prayed for don Miguel Ruiz who was having a heart transplant, called out to don Allan many times, and also named other seekers who I knew were with him at Teotihuacan.

 

moss mural along the avenue

 

the tree masters

Very soon I had come to the first tier and looked back down upon the master’s house.  I also remembered the women’s  quarters there.  I began having doubts again over whether it would ever heal, all that stands between me and sisterhood with other women.  I looked at the moss upon the rocks and imagined it was the murals on the master house of old, across from the pyramid on the Avenue below, and I asked the help of the masters with all the work ahead releasing fears of other women. Later one tree master embraced me, definitely a female. I thanked her and blessed her and moved on.

 

lovely lady dressed in green

 

 

the masters house

 

 

the women's quarters

 

I continued on knowing that there were masters all around me supporting me.  One tree master seemed to hold out a leaf to me in the shape of a heart.  The heart leaf was torn and in the center was a tiny black hole.  I thought to myself that my black sun is not in the cosmos, but in the center of my own cracked and broken heart.  My unmanifest is myself.  I don’t know that I have ever even seen myself yet, being presently the master mostly of weaving and juggling baskets to cover myself up.

 

my sacred heart

 

Quickly I made my ascent to the second tier. I began to have terrible doubts again.  I had been disappointed to notice that I still was holding some very destructive beliefs about my body.  I do not know how to transform them.  I have released them and yet … they stand up again and begin to move my body like a marionette.  I can never seem to reach the strings to change the dance.  I leaned on  a fallen tree and I doubted if I would ever be able to release these beliefs that seemed to be cast into the very flesh of my body memory.

 

"no doubt"

 

Suddenly I heard  don Allan say as he had said last year, “no doubt.”   Then I heard Melissa Phillippe sing “in spirit I am already healed” and I turned to climb the last stretch to the top.

As I came to the top of Spruce Mountain I was delayed with another brief decision.  The old fire tower that stands atop the mountain is the only point where one can see a 360 degree view, like the top of the pyramid.  Though it is very windy and often terrifying to scale the spindly steps to reach the look out where the sharp winds howl.  I quickly opted to  make my ritual on a sunny stone outcropping where I often visit on my climbs.  I called upon don Allan, I reached out my heart to Christ, I named other joydancers.  However, I see now that I began to come under a serious attack of the parasite.

The parasite is a Toltec term describing the nature of the human being.  The ordinary state of the human being is characterized  by a victim  and a judge which are two sides of one coin that is our human mind.  We bargain our way through life either suffering as victims, taking everything personally and paying service to the judge within, or judging ourselves and others. Don Miguel describes how when we are under the influence of this parasite we are listening to the Prince of Lies and not aware of our true nature as one love.   The Toltec Warrior takes on the battle of transforming this ordinary state with many tools beginning with awareness of this state.We begin our journey as a snake slithering in the grass unaware.  We become stronger as a Warrior and learn to hunt the program in our mind that keeps us trapped in the parasitic see saw.  As we become stronger we take on the eagle’s wings and can fly up high recognizing the universal dance of action and reaction, seeing clearly how nothing is personal.

My parasite began to point out that this mere hilltop was no Teo.  In fact it was a piece of cake, no real challenge at all.  I had to agree in a way, deepening my possession by the parasite, though it is more of a hike than climbing the pyramid.  In fact, I realized that climbing Spruce used to be a good workout for me.

About a year ago as part of my Toltec study I began to attend boot camp, a strenuous 5 am workout.  I did this only because it was something I would normally never do.  I did it as an exercise in shedding old identities and seeing the side of myself that I don’t allow or sabotage by believing in judgments and fear.   I also did it so that I could stalk the side of me that judges the me that gets up, and follows a crazy scheme created by someone nothing like me at 5 am.  Boot camp has remained a constant exercise in facing my parasite because I have to constantly examine, am I just saying I can’t do this exercise or can I truly not do the exercise?  Am I listening to myself and my body right now or am I succumbing to pressure from this outer force, peer pressure or coaching that pushes me?  There are many physical exercises that I could not do hardly at all at the beginning and now are easy for me and enjoyable.

I have also embraced many new friends within my community who have taken this up for their reasons.  People who I would never enjoy if I hadn’t tried it out. In fact, boot camp has allowed me to enjoy a more active family life, it has done wonders for my relationship with my husband because we now do it together.  I am in touch with my body in a way that was never before possible since I am now aware of my body’s many individual muscles and bones in a whole new way.  In fact, I am seeing that the awareness of my body that is growing in me,  due in part to boot camp, is actually a dream come true and it is the dream I want to share with my children.  So my parasite was right, I am physically much stronger than ever before and Spruce Mountain is not a challenge in any way, as a physical exercise. That alone is a huge and unimaginable change in my life.  Not long ago in 2006 I considered myself virtually disabled, living with chronic back pain, never dreaming I would live to do 75 pushups before sunrise and easily hike mountains once again.

Of course, I didn’t climb  Teotihuacan as a physical exercise, and I was not climbing Spruce Mountain on this day as part of a fitness program either.  I made a prayer for  friends whose parasites tell them they can’t do things for physical reasons, and for all those who struggle with physical challenges.  I set the topic aside and moved on.

 

"walkin' on, walkin' on to the light"

 

My parasite began to further agitate, saying, “this is no Teo, it is DAMN COLD! for one thing. There aren’t big gray clouds in Teo!  There has to be a group to create the energy on the top of the pyramid.  This measly hilltop just does not have the magic of the Pyramid of the Sun and the other joydancers aren’t giving me a moments thought.  Allan has forgotten all about me and so have the others.  They are all having some bliss apart.”  I could see it was getting worse and I took out my medicine bag.  The medicine bag  is a small bag with a cloth and items in it that we use to create a little stage with the symbols and doo dads  representing the different dramatic characters in our mind.  With the medicine bag we can begin to stand outside and watch the drama of our parasite as a Warrior, making a puppet show out of the stories in our own mind.   I often lay out a mini Avenue of the Dead and ask myself, where am I now?

 

"I am a mirror"

 

I see that I was completely unable to identify where I was in that moment, the possession of the parasite was now underway, though I did continue to concentrate on my intent to unite with don Allan and the joydancers.  I had felt such a strong connection the day before, where was it now?  I reached out into the sunshine with my awareness and briefly saw a glimpse of energy similar to what I remembered, though the parasite raged on. “It’s freezing here and you are all alone! What a stupid fantasy!”  I lay down in the sun and I could hear a group of ravens croaking nearby. They were circling around the top of the mountain playing in the wind.  “It’s supposed to be butterflies!” said the parasite.  I tried telling myself that maybe Karen Shuman, one of the joydancers, was reaching out to me. She has a totem of a crow.  “They are ravens, not crows!” said the parasite.

I was crumbling. In my dream I could create Teo wherever I go. It had been very powerful until this moment. My awareness had grown and sharpened with each day in many ways more powerfully than if I was there because I was not distracting myself with anyone else’s experiences, advice or stories.  I had held a firm and powerful vigil as a Warrior.  Now here at the culminating solemn moment I watched myself wipe out into the bitterness and sorrow of a hopeless victim.  “My dreams aren’t real.”     “I’ll never heal.”

 

the fire tower

 

I climbed up to the top of the fire tower and the biting winds brought tears to my eyes.  I tried to imagine looking out over the view as if I was looking back over the Avenue of the Dead and recall my warrior’s journey, but I couldn’t stand there in the cold long enough to orient myself. I noticed my sweet dog Butter below whimpering for me to come down.

I had brought Butter along for a variety of reasons.  We don’t take her off the farm much because she gets carsick and she is very nervous.  I decided to take her on the hike because she reminded me of my inner child, the victim portion of my parasite, who can become  nervous and sick to her stomach.  I decided that I would return to her below and make the rest of our day into something gentle for her. The ravens continued coming closer to the tower and croaking at me playfully.

 

the ravens

 

We made our way back down the trail and I could see that my victim was resolving to be alone, decidedly abandoned by the joydancers.  She petted Butter, longed for her horse, and dreamed of losing herself in caring for animals. Suddenly I remembered the way that Allan had taken me by the hand when we came down from the Pyramid of the Sun. It was a difficult transition for me to leave the Pyramid and returning to conversation was not coming along quickly. As always he seemed to know what to do.  The next moment there was a leaf with a heart shape cut out of it that seemed to call me as if don Allan had sent me a valentine on the wind. It was enough to cause me to smile and let go of the story that I was separate from anything.

 

love leaf

 

After all those who are masters began as seekers.  I heard one of them say, “if I can do it, you can do it.”

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