It's usually when I walk around in my underwear. On occasion my daughter, who just turned five, chases me squealing, "Mama your legs are so biiiiiiig!" She giggles and wants to touch me and play with me.
The first time she said it was about six months ago and it caught me off guard.
Did she really just say that?
It was one of those semi-shocking moments, when a child blurts something you just wouldn't say as an adult. Women don't want to hear that. But plain truth be told, my legs are bigger than hers. She has a slender build and I am almost twice as tall as her. Plus her body is lean and I spent my early childhood snacking on Oreo cookies and ice cream. Mine's not as lean.
So once I got over the reaction I would have had 20 years ago: Whaaaaaat? Ohhhh this hurts, ouch, she's right, I really need to get more exercise or stop eating sugar or... which took about three seconds to move through me, I simply said what seemed true and loving: "My legs are just the right size for me."
Frankly I almost couldn't believe what I'd said. Was that really me talking, saying words of self-acceptance about my body? Who was this matter-of-fact-I'm-fine woman that I'd become?
Let me answer that question. This woman is a woman who has experienced so much culturally and self-inflicted criticism, yes mostly self inflicted, about my body that I refused to ever, no I have not ever, said one negative word about my body around my daughter. I don't talk about women's bodies as if they are to be criticized. Spending 30-something years in the pain of that world was enough.
This is a woman who birthed a girl child, for whom I want as little of that kind of pain as humanly possible. Magazine ads and peer chatter will be enough for her to pick up on society's sick perspectives about the female body. I will not be contributing to that.
We all get to choose our parenting style. We all get to choose what we say to our children. So many of us want our children to be free of the wounds we lived through in our own childhood.
Will we teach our daughters to focus on their bodies' strength, on how they feel?
Will we teach our sons to respect girls' bodies, by respecting our own in front of them?
As for me, the best I can do is let the outrageously big love I feel for my daughter escalate my own process of accepting that I am fine.
I am just fine, just the way I am, whether it's summertime and my skin is glowing, or a long dark winter where I'm pale as a pigeon plucking snow from the curb. At age 14 I had magazine covers plastered on my walls because I thought supermodels were it, and I wanted to be like them. Now, things are different. Age has freed me up. Something like that.
Yes I know full self acceptance is a tall order. Yet I know it is worth wanting.
Thank you, child, for calling forth my wiser self. May you always know your legs are just the right size for you, too. May you have no idea how many thousands of hours I've spent criticizing my own body, and especially my legs, until someday by the fire while we're camping, it feels like time to tell you that story. Dear child, may your life show you a way that is glorious galaxies beyond the wisdom of mine.
Two weeks ago an article appeared in my Facebook feed with these words: You don’t realize it, but you are being programmed. It was written by a former Facebook executive, and my response was simply to shrug because, frankly, I know that. Look around you. On buses and trains, at dinner tables in people’s home or out at restaurants, everywhere you look, people have married their screen devices. Computer phones. Whatever you want to call them, these devices are “smart” in that they’re very much designed with the intention to grab your attention, and keep it.
That’s it, I thought. I’m out. It’s time. And in that moment, after skimming the article which was basically an affirmation of my own years of discomfort with humanity's screen device habits, I decided I’d take two weeks and deactivate my accounts on Facebook and Instagram.
It wasn’t the article that tipped me over. Other people’s thoughts don’t have that much power over me, or so I think. I brought that discovery into my life to help me make the tip, the lunge, the leap.
What about the joy? Oh, there is indeed joy. My top intent while spending time scrolling social media scenes is to share joy, to share love, to illuminate the beauty in being human. Openly I share my huge heart’s love for humanity, one person at a time. Openly I offer kind words to anyone who seems to need them in one post. Or another. On it goes, joy being shared, big questions asked, some useful information gathered, yet overall…
Wellness is only a slice of the feeling I get from participating in social media. For every bit of my precious life that I enjoy interacting there, in the background there’s a tension, sometimes hard to notice, often hard to name.
What could be bothering me?
Could it be that I stopped watching TV in 1993 and suddenly I feel like I got snatched from behind, tugged into a TV-like landscape that I didn’t really know I’d get so tugged into? It’s awfully cunning, the waterfall of tricks and drips of happy, hooking hormones showered upon us as we use social media.
Did someone else tug me into it or did I willingly dive? As one wise friend pointed out, we cannot be programmed unless we allow ourselves to. She’s so right, on an essential level. Yet very few people I know have actually mastered the art of having full command of their attention, very few people I know find a deeply balanced relationship with screen device use. Quite frankly, almost everyone I know -- myself included -- has become more habitually enslaved to their devices, than not. Who’s doing the programming? This is where I give both parties credit.
It’s a relationship. And a very intimate one.
We take our phones to bed. They live against our skin, in pockets and bags. They sit on our dinner tables, always ready to serve. We’ve basically married them, but never written vows, and never consciously acknowledged we were entering an intimate partnership. We tend to our phones more closely than we do to most -- all? -- people in our lives. Including ourselves.
This is the itch. Something is tugging at me, itching my skin, and it’s stronger than the tug of sharing life with friends and family on computer screens. One thing I’ve learned that I’m downright thrilled to know, is that feelings aren’t usually easy to name, especially when they’re edgy, and yet they must be honored. Feelings don't just go away because we deny them and try to pretend they're not there.
Just because I can’t articulate my reasons for leaving social media with highly sophisticated eloquence, I know for sure it’s the right thing to do. For me. I know for sure that I will find pleasure in re-routing the ways I share life and joy with people. I know for sure it feels good to be honoring this feeling, and that life outside social media will satisfy me in at least these three ways: It’s less noisy. It’s less shallow. It’s less cluttered.
When I choose quiet over noise in life outside the screen, why would I choose the noise of social media as part of my everyday life?
When my deep-feeling heart extends itself to feel big things in the collective human experience, needing close relations to listen, to witness, to really see me with their eyes, presence and words, why would I spend so much time in a landscape I find so shallow?
When I don’t allow clutter in my home space, it simply doesn’t get to live with me, why would I allow my eyes, ears and attention to lay in a landscape filled with clutter?
Questions, for me.
For you they may have no ring, no resonance. For you social media might be a wonderful place where you love to play, where you feel your time is well spent, with no tug to do otherwise. You might even be one of the rare ones who’s found gorgeous balance in your own engagement with screen time. To you, I bow in respect! I seek that balance. I haven't found it yet.
Even with minimal engagement on social media, implementing my own mindfulness practices including focusing on those who are dearest to me, keeping comments brief yet packed with Love’s punch, and rarely scrolling my own "Home" wall or anyone else's, I’ve found it to be too much. Even with limited engagement, the tug of irritation has persisted.
That’s when I knew it was time, and that’s when the article appeared. Ha! Don’t you love the swift-winged synchronicity of this universe?
So here I sit, with one day left before I deactivate my accounts and begin the rerouting process. One day after deciding, I already felt weight lifted off my shoulders. In my bones, I know this is right for me.
Still, leaving social media when I’ve been engaged with it intimately for nine years is no small thing. It’s 2018. Come on. Social media is, like, life. Right? Riiiight?
How will I reroute regular contact with my teenage nieces and nephews? Will it be arduous, like that one time I tried to dump my new computer-phone for an old phone, and realized it just made life more difficult? Will it feel effortful to engage in causes I care about -- like Raffi’s Centre for Child Honouring, the Free Range Learning Community, Wild + Free, or simply hearing about fabulous things my friends are doing, parties they’re having, prayers they’re calling for?
I am left with trust that all will find its way, as I know I’m the one person alive tasked with taking great care of me. And as I age, I take this job more seriously and find it more and more delicious.
When my daughter looks around and sees people plugged into their screen device most of the time, I want her to have another example.
I want her mother to be one of the people who offers a way that’s more real-touch, real-time. More based in pleasure, the sand, the light of the sun not the screen. Ultimately I’d like to offer her and me, a way of using screen devices that is balanced, moderate, engaged, while not being tethered. I haven’t found that yet, and stepping out feels like the best way to rewire my own brain’s engagement, while rewriting the story I tell about sharing life and joy with those I love.
You’ll find me most easily via email, through the articles I soulfully write for a number of international publications, all of which are posted on my blog, and through my newsletter (sign up!) which will contain all the goodies I produce including news of my first book, coming out in the fall of 2018, and the podcasts I’m about to bust out.
With love, I salute you and your choices.
With love, I salute me and mine.
See you ‘round the way!
As published by the Findhorn Foundation.
Have you ever wondered what life on Planet Earth might be like in 100 years, when maybe, just maybe, humanity has reached a point of valuing spiritual intelligence (SQ) as much as we seem to value rational intelligence (IQ)? We have barely begun valuing emotional intelligence (EQ) so how long might it take before we value what is seen as yet another essential leap into the intelligence and potential of humanity — spiritual intelligence?
With the future being unpredictable, that question may be less helpful than those presenting themselves more readily in the here and now. What is SQ? And as for our own inner questioning, how does each of us embrace it more fully in our own lives?
Exhibiting how humanity is grappling with this relatively new area of study, many definitions have been presented for SQ.
Whereas IQ is associated with the left brain and EQ is associated with the right brain, SQ is noted as a “third way” of human intelligence, including elements of the intangible or immeasurable aspects of living in a human body.
Perhaps the most succinct definition comes from Richard Griffiths, former National Chairman of the Transpersonal Psychology section of the Australian Psychological Society, who says, “Spiritual intelligence equals IQ and EQ exercised with presence.”
Griffiths defines presence as the movement of awareness from ego to soul. Coming from ego, we tend to focus more on fear, short term vision, our limitations, and seeing ourselves as small or insignificant — even if that small sense of self is sometimes masked by conceit or arrogance. Coming from a sense of soul means our view is more vast. We see ourselves as part of a great web of life, relationships, patterns, all of which are significant in their impact on the world we live in.
The term Spiritual Intelligence was coined in 1997 by Danah Zohar when she introduced the concept in her book Rewiring the Corporate Brain. In this book Zohar explores the implications of SQ and other sciences that were new at the time, relating them directly to organisational problems and challenges faced by corporate leaders. She wanted to illustrate how humans can exercise full creative capacities, rather than making IQ the indisputable heavyweight among our intelligences. Considered one of the world’s greatest thinkers in the realm of management, Zohar studied Physics and Philosophy at MIT and did her postgraduate work in Philosophy, Religion and Psychology at Harvard.
To be clear, definitions of SQ note that spirituality is distinct from religiosity, equating SQ with existential intelligence. In his 2004 book The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness, Stephen Covey wrote, "Spiritual intelligence is the central and most fundamental of all the intelligences, because it becomes the source of guidance for the others."
While there is yet no universally accepted method of measuring SQ, there are many well developed tools. Principles and measurement criteria found in them include: valuing other people for their differences, not despite them; self-awareness; spontaneity; positive use of adversity; bilateral respect in our relationships; maintaining a sense of tranquility regardless of workload; the ability to utilise spiritual resources to solve problems, and; ego self mastery.
One assessment tool which has been tested and also cross-correlated with an instrument from Harvard University is called SQ21. It uses a framework of 21 skills to map strengths and identify development areas. The Findhorn Foundation will be hosting a workshop in June 2018, Next Level Leadership, that uses this model, giving participants a full assessment.
What becomes possible when we amplify our own spiritual intelligence?
Reflecting on how SQ might have touched my life, I am reminded of a noteworthy moment in 1997 during my last year of college when something called to me about Hawai’i. From someplace deep within me, I wanted to go. And I wanted to go all by myself. In my mind I recalled images of endless, lush greenery. Specifically Kaua’i, I had heard, was “the most beautiful place on Earth.”
Some close friends had traveled alone, but in my family this wasn’t common for a person my age. My sister was concerned. My dad was concerned. I was cautioned against it. Still I felt called to go. And while there were left-brain (IQ-related) reasons supporting my longing — such as the knowing that it was part of the USA, my own native country, and that the main spoken language was English — I could have also followed the advice of the TV media. Don’t travel alone; it isn’t safe; stay close to home; bad things happen to good people. What if…? What if…? What if…?
Those messages simply didn’t resonate. There was a tug too strong in my heart, an instinctual tug, that urged me to listen. From an EQ perspective, my feeling of trust that it would work out just fine, took centre stage. Very clearly there was a feeling in my heart that knew I was safe. Perhaps my intuition and soul awareness, both aspects of SQ, intermingling with IQ and EQ in the dance of this decision, were what allowed this to become a defining moment in the rest of my life.
Sure enough, though I stayed only with ‘strangers’ and went with very little money, it took less than a week for one of the most life changing experiences of my life to occur. Almost as in a dream state, I found myself sitting in the living room of a man who is internationally renowned for his spiritual clarity, a teacher of forgiveness, who ended up being a dedicated spiritual mentor and friend to me over the last 20 years.
Something tells me it was this deep-rooted sense of safety — an unwavering sense of certainty in who I am rather than what I am being in this moment or that moment, the connection I had to my own soul, the refusal to buy into messages of fear — that led to this experience. When we have a strong internal sense of who we are, on a bigger and deeper scale than what is showing up in our present moment circumstances, our decisions are enveloped in SQ. In those moments when we are aware of who we are, our essence, we may find ourselves in places we would not have imagined ourselves. Something much greater is at play. This is what SQ can lead us to; this is leadership when SQ is engaged. Had I listened only to left- or right-brain information, I might have had a great trip. But I don’t suspect it would have been epic.
We are in good company.
SQ is universal; each of us can access it when we choose to. No one has “a corner on the market” as my coach likes to remind me. Whether afraid or not, whether others approve of our explorations or not, when we open up to our own SQ, it smiles back at us like a lavender bush stretching for the sun.
Today, we live in a world with almost incomprehensible human suffering. The atrocities that happen every single day due to humanity’s unloving choices can feel debilitating, like a heavy dark cloud that zaps our motivation. Fortunately, to provide leadership for addressing the magnitude of these problems, there are many, many examples of SQ in our midst. Now that there are various tools for measuring SQ in individuals, hundreds of humans have been widely recognized as having high levels of SQ. Among them are Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Don Miguel Ruiz, Caroline Myss, Adyashanti, Deepak Chopra, Paulo Coelho, Clarissa Pinkola Estes and Gary Snyder. This is just the very tip of the iceberg.
It is not necessary to know someone personally to benefit from the chemistry exchanged between us. Reading a book by someone who embodies SQ or listening to a talk in person or online are both good ways to enhance our sense of spiritual wisdom. Simply deciding that SQ is important to us is an act of commitment as it expresses our values and vision and leads to thoughts, feelings and actions that support this decision.
May we all find ways to engage playfully — and even engage a bit of spiritual ‘mischief’ — with our own SQ, inviting it to surface from our wise inner depths before we have a chance to think too hard about it.
A simple question I like to ask myself sometimes, when faced with a difficult situation such as conflict with a loved one, is: How would my spiritual self guide me here? It is almost shocking how quickly we can seem to trick ourselves out of fear-based thoughts, turning instead to our own timeless wisdom.
Last night it was our old next door neighbor. The one back home in Petaluma. In my dream she was sorting through things in her car. And she was pregnant.
Each night before, for the past two weeks since we left our home in Northern California, it was another dear one. Somebody who’s tucked way deep into the caves of my heart, whose love I must feel as I sleep, to be here, to be brave, to wake up optimistic about all the new sounds, words, sights and choices each day brings.
Two weeks ago we came to Sweden. It’s lovely. Waterways and ferries, charming schools, clean streets, lots of bicyclists, people walking with their families, often with a scoop of summertime sunshine in hand — ice cream. We’re staying for a year, through the dark and cold of winter, so my daughter can absorb her father’s native culture into her bones — its language, her grandparents and cousins, a whole new map of humanity to add to the one she’s known all her life in America. And I am here to see my life and homeland from a distance — to gain some perspective.
It is a mystery, what exactly this year will bring. As always in life, we do not know. Yet adventure seems to make life more unstable… usually in a positive way.
Daily I begin writing blog posts in my head...
How to Support a Child During a Big Move
The Mama Bond and How It Impacts Parenting
Social Solidarity and Unschooling
What if Everyone on Earth Had Their Own Dream-Space for Art?
The Art of Knowing Nothing
And then, all that lands on paper is letters. To friends back home. To my mom. Letters write themselves so easily through me, because they are an expression of love in relationship. No thinking required.
So here, I’m doing a little of that in a blog post. Highlights “on the surface” of my intercontinental family move, in the form of five Notes to Self. Under the surface, in the subconscious and unconscious mind — in that place of dreaming-asleep — all the musings inside that place are way outside of words even between me and myself, so I don't dare try to make any sense of them on paper. Here are the ones I can make some sense of — those personal bits I’ve dug up from my own life that might be of value to you.
#1: Way to land it, Mama! Six and a half months of deciding, planning, envisioning, orchestrating, and you have landed this family plane! Now rest. If that pressure behind your eyes has anything to do with the long daylight hours, you can rest assured knowing fall and winter will bring plenty of relief from light. But let’s just say that you’ve worked your tail off, with bucket-loads of help from friends and family, to get here and now… You. Are. Here. Note to Self: Stop. Slow down. Give yourself time to recover not just from the jet lag but from all the project management energy you exerted to make this shift. Rest is so, so important. Stay true in knowing that, even when the ‘outside’ world tells you to go, go, push on, go.
#2: Our shipping crates are somewhere off at sea. Estimated delivery was five days after our arrival, now changed to seven weeks. We’ve got clothes and a few toys and books for our daughter, but there is no doubt those carefully chosen material things we packed into crates bring enormous value — joy, familiarity, a foundation. Things that are helpful on big adventures. Note to Self: Continue on your journey of finding true balance and joy — sufficiency as Lynne Twist calls it in her famed book The Soul of Money — with material things in life. And when you have what you perceive as “too much” in life — clutter, excess, gluttony — aim to be grateful that at least you have enough. And when you don’t have quite all the things you’d like to have, like now, be grateful they are coming, and that you can find happy days as a family even with only the things you packed into a duffel bag.
#3: I’ve never stuck with gyms for long. I join, the going feels great and then I fall out of love. Only those movements that bring me real joy — like frisbee, dancing and bicycling — tend to last. So I’ve noted for a good life, this body needs those playful things. And meanwhile, here I am living my dream of not owning a car for a year! It’s been a decade in waiting. I’ve wondered how much America’s obesity epidemic has to do with how people move — or don’t. Here we’ve been walking a lot every day and it feels so good to know this won’t end in two weeks when my vacation is over. This isn’t a vacation; this is our life on a different continent. And… Note to Self: Though you might feel lighter — and better — with all this walking, do not forget that it is playful movement that truly lights up your body from the inside. You will find that capoeira class. Its berimbau song sings you awake like nothing else. Fall in, girl.
#4: As ten of your dearest lady friends told you two weeks ago, seated on colorful blankets circled up in a farewell ritual, they are holding you. Your web of women is something fierce, in a landscape of loneliness. You will never be lonely for long because of the way you revere your relations. Note to Self: Even when your letter writing and other ways of feeding friendships seem to be devalued — as they’re not compensated financially and the bonds aren’t always tangible or visible — they hold you up. Keep them strong. This you know. Without your tribe, you fall and it hurts. With your tribe, you fall and look around to hear familiar songs singing you right back up.
#5: Despite the temptation to ask, “Now that I’m in a new place, who am I here?” you are who you are, in essence — everywhere. Joy is joy wherever you are. You don’t need to search for a new joy, though many might find you. Note to Self: Music lifts your soul; Sing loud every day. (Presently overhearing my daughter leading her father through Bob Marley’s song One Love in the kitchen… She knows.) Art keeps you grounded, so you know that your place on Earth is a beautiful one, no less useful than the sun as it shines on moss green fields of rice. You were born a “profound romantic” — a lover of humanity — and expressing this through writing is your gift and your art. Keep giving. Find your paper people, those who know the art of letter writing is not dead. Dance in the joy of that knowing, together. An art is not dead if it is being lived.
My dream is to write like crazy while we’re here in Scandinavia. I know this can happen, and it likely will. Being in a culture that truly values art is indescribably refreshing — but I can’t say just how, at the moment. Receptors are inward, picking up, not yet forming the full articulations of what I am noticing.
Thank you for being with me, anyone who’s reading this, as we journey on. May our little family's adventure light up your own desires to move upon this great, glorious small planet we call Home, our precious Mother Earth.
As I laid in bed yesterday, the left side of my head ripping apart from the inside with constant pressing pain, it felt like the end of a burning softball bat was pressing against my blood vessels. Migraine #8 has been an acutely painful dance. Life from here on out must look different. I cannot live with this kind of pain. I must hear the message it is meant to bring. I surrender.
Have you been in pain like this? Are you among the 19% of women with migraines or chronic back pain, or some other bodily agony? What about your child – are you a mother whose child lives with Crohn’s Disease, another autoimmune disorder, a vaccine related injury or some other kind of pain?
Pain is, above all things, a messenger. Suffering does not need to happen as long as we listen to the message that pain brings and tune in to what is being asked of us – we are, in pain, always being asked… something.
On the very bright side, there is unlimited love right at our very own fingertips. We can speak sweet words to ourselves in our own minds. This nurtures our hearts. We can tend to our physical pain with massage, acupuncture, plant medicine. This nurtures our body. We can take time for ourselves to be spacious, rather than planning too much. This tends to our soul. We can tend to our own body, heart, and soul in many ways and this is always available to us at no cost, with no delay, and with no limits.
How rich we are, that we can love ourselves like this! That we can model for our children what it means to care for the self. That we can create a reality, by “being the change we wish to see in the world” as Gandhi said – a world that is more gentle, more kind, more delightful than before we found it.
Beyond the riches of our own capacity for self-love, there lies an oceanic swell of love felt for us by others. Whether or not we see it, it is absolutely there.
As my most painful migraine thus far carried on, the option of caring for it “all by myself” disappeared. There was no way I could function; I had to call for help. At 6:30am one morning, a neighbor went out into the world to buy medicine and bring it to my doorstep, while my brain felt as if it were about to explode. What was going on in my head? I didn’t know. But I did know I needed help, and he rose to the occasion before the sun came up.
That was when it became clear this was no time to pretend I was independent. We need each other.
A chorus of compassion started singing in my head. I thought of all the other women in the world who experience painful migraines. I thought of the men who do, too. Many of those women and men don’t have friendly neighbors who’ll run errands at the crack of dawn – or worse yet, they don’t have the inner self worth to ask for the help in the first place. My heart swelled with compassion for the emptiness, the hole, the sad state of being so many people live in while living with pain. My life is full of soulfully rich relationships. Many people’s lives are not. And even with rich relationships, life presents significant, sometimes lengthy and seemingly insurmountable challenges. How tough must it be for those people who don’t have this kind of relationship wealth in their lives?
Sidled up to my compassion for others who experience migraines is a batch of compassion for mothers who wanted to give birth vaginally and ended up with a C-section. Some mothers truly mourn the loss of the labor they dreamed of; others are fine with whatever turned out. I feel for the ones who felt a loss, as I too experienced labor-related trauma, even though it was after a vaginal home birth.
Sidled up next to these compassion wells is a deep bay of feeling for those who struggle with emotional eating, overindulging in sugary foods, and deep loneliness. I have faced these dark valleys, and they are not sweetened by the breath of spring lilacs. There is charcoal lining the way. What I would give – I’d give a lot – to soothe the aches and sorrows of anyone suffering along these painful trails.
That’s a lot of compassion. And it’s only my own.
I thought of all the friends and family who offered – from the abundant goodness in their hearts – acupuncture and massage and magnesium in the mail and child care, care packages at my doorstep and fiercely empowering text messages to my very soul. The mountain of compassion embodied in these hearts astounded me.
How sad it is that anyone on Earth ever feels alone in their pain. How unnecessary and inappropriate this is, when every woman, man and child on this planet has access to this riveting chorus of kindness, love, compassion.
There is only the space of one single thought in between any single person – you, your partner, your child, your mother, your neighbor or best friend, or the homeless person on the city sidewalk – and this chorus of compassion that can soothe all the pain in the world. Sit with this. If your child lives with pain, if you live with pain, stop pretending this is not available to you.
All the love in the world belongs to all of us; it is no one’s alone and could never be.
Let us teach our children, first by modeling ourselves, the importance of self-care for a life well lived. That their mother and father are worth all the asking for help, all the affirming mantras, all the pauses and song that are needed to fill up one precious human soul in the busyness of life lived these days.
When our child is in pain, let us show them how to treat it like a friend – to listen to it, to love it like it has something important to say. It does. And our children, energetic masters of feeling and presence, will be glad to step up into seeing their pain as the messenger it is. Let us remind them of the compassion-filled universe awaiting their requests, their calling, their ask. Let us help them lead the way.
Tricky, tricky, tricky. Life keeps doing its thing, keeping us on our toes.
Twenty-three years ago I stopped watching TV. For me, life outside the screen is just more interesting.
I don’t experience FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). I still stay tuned to enough news stories. I still live in the modern world, lacking nothing that TV offers. As a matter of fact, I have seen my quality of life largely enhanced by this choice.
Yet clever ol’ life has outsmarted me once again, depositing the next big challenge right in the palm of my hand. A computer phone — commonly called a smartphone — and it’s packed with sweet social media temptation. Two decades after I’d stopped finding any allure behind the screen, now I can blast my love-note-rockets across the planet instantly, to family and friends 200 or even 5,328 miles away. What’s fabulous about that? My husband’s family lives in Sweden, and it is really nice to so easily share photos of our daughter with them.
From not-even-a-little-bit-tempting, to suddenly delicious. Oh, boy.
We’ve all got ways our life is made more meaningful and fun with social media. Entirely shutting ourselves out of the joys of modern technology is neither reasonable nor very productive. Years ago when I tried to go back to a call/text-only phone, it clogged my ability to do many things I enjoy. That wasn’t the answer for me. And it’s not the answer I seek for the problem we face as a society: a mass addiction that we rarely discuss and barely even see.
Tricky, tricky, tricky. Not cut and dry. Not black and white. And not One Size Fits all.
Enter, Screenagers the movie.
Produced by a concerned mother who’s a Stanford trained MD, the movie explores screen life among teenagers, children and families. Impacts on the brain of adolescents, tendencies of boys to play violent video games while girls take selfies and aim to look “good,” the importance of role modeling by parents and how families can benefit from the use of structures like agreements around smartphone use.
The film features Sherry Turkle, Director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, who has rigorously researched and explored the use and impact of screens in our time.
As I watched the film, it was like I’d walked thirsty for miles and finally reached water. Bothered for many years by our societal lack of mindfulness around screen time, I have initiated some conversation around it and taken my own strides toward a more conscientious relationship with the screen. When we’re bothered, we need to take personal responsibility first and foremost. If I’m picking up the phone-computer or laptop-computer every time I sit down to relax, what does that tell my daughter? Children mimic what we do, and I don’t want her to treat the computer like a best friend.
Isn’t this what we do? As with a best friend or lover or newborn baby, we tend to our computer-phones with utmost devotion.
Like keys, wallets and lip gloss, we know where our computer-phone is at all times. It buzzes or beeps and we tend to it within seconds. Hundreds of times a day, we interact with it. It sleeps next to us and sits on our dining table top like a precious jewel. Last week, as I sat at my favorite cafe planning my week, I noticed a screen at every table surrounding mine — and I took these photos. Surely they’re not unfamiliar to anyone reading this.
Perspectives on screen use vary widely. With this issue as with life itself, we are best off when we discover and honor our own values, allow others to do the same, and don’t take it personally when people don’t feel the way we do.
Some parents say computers are “the future” and want their kids using them as much as possible to keep up with technology. Some parents — consciously or unconsciously, the whole range exists — use computers as babysitters, either for an hour a day or even 6 hours a day. Some families don’t allow screen time at all in the household, because they feel the society will provide enough of that and they want to be sure their children are sufficiently exposed to things like outdoor play in nature, music and human interpersonal connection. As shown in the Screenagers film, some parents have established boundaries and practices like Tech Free Tuesdays where dinnertime is screen-free and conversation centers around sharing with each other about screen habits, what’s working and what’s not working, concerns and joys. That’s just a sampling of how screen-life looks in families. You might have a situation that’s totally different from any of these.
What works for you? Have you found a healthy balance for your family or household, one that honors the desires and freedom associated with computer use and also has a solid tone of mindfulness around use, risks and benefits?
Striking a balance around device-use requires self-awareness, mindfulness, and a desire to have your impact in the world be more intended, than unintended. This doesn't just happen. We have to step in and step up.
For our family, with two parents who have strong preferences in most areas of life and one three year old daughter, it’s absolutely a work in progress.
Mama Bear Rio will now give myself permission to share passionately about my perspectives on the issue, for the sake of my own clarity and expression, and for any others who find it helpful as you consider yours.
From my maternal instinct and personal sense of human responsibility, I approach screen-time with the eye of a skeptic. I smell with my primal mind the addictive nature of screen-time and I’m on to it; it will not have power over me. If I am going to depend on something so much, and let it be close to me so often, then I’ve got to have a really clean, beneficial relationship with this thing.
We are, after all, engaged in an intimate relationship with our phones — are we not?
Boundaries and agreements are an essential part of healthy intimacy.
My phone doesn’t sleep next to me; it sleeps on the kitchen counter.
I do not respond to texts or calls right away unless I want to in that moment.
We do not bring our phones to the dining table; that’s a sacred place for gratitude and presence, above all things.
Once the sun goes down, the screen stays off.
I trust myself and my ‘inner meter’ of awareness, to tell me if any given day — or road trip, or week, or morning — has had too much screen time and not enough play, music, reading, eye contact... or just being.
When I’m with my daughter, unless I’m engaged in something timely or on a roll with writing, or otherwise genuinely needing to tend to whatever I’m doing on the screen, she is the priority. When she needs something, the screen waits. There will be no hazing and dazing out in La La Screen Land when my greatest spiritual teacher is in my company.
How does this work? I simply try to power-out my screen use when she’s not around, taking care of things in a more productive and condensed fashion. Her presence holds the bar high for me in this area, and I’m the last person who’ll deny her invitation to step up my game. Every few days she might glimpse something on my screen, like a Facebook photo or a music video, and that’s fine.
For us this isn’t about extremism. It’s about finding a reasonable, authentic balance for our family.
And these aren’t hard rules I am chained to. They are principles that guide what feels like a healthy relationship, between myself and the computer screen, for the sake of our family.
In his February 2015 post The Device Diet, Mindfulness Based Health Founder Pete Kirchmer writes, “Five years ago I’d never had a client request coaching around social media compulsion and device addiction. This is a phenomenon that has been around for awhile but is more recently emerging as a relevant topic for all of my clients, despite demographic or the primary coaching goal they came with. It seems we are all united by this common distraction and our desire to gain control over it.”
Anytime I contemplate the relationship we have with our screens, our devices, at first it all seems a bit daunting. Then I remember how useful it is for us humans to face challenges — spiritual, physical, emotional, mental — so that we can practice all the great things worth practicing.
Presence is one of these great things.
Mindfulness has become a very popular subject in recent years and I can’t think of a better challenge to set the bar high, than the allure of these handy little pocket-computers, with all their little charming emoticons and customizable alert sounds, the ability to take and share photos and videos in a split second… It’s all pretty snazzy.
Yet we’re made for these times. The huge success of the movie Screenagers gives me hope that we may be facing quite a jewel of a challenge, in actuality — one that’ll “call out” humanity in a compelling enough way to bring us far-more-fully into the present moment. The "precious present," as it has been called. The place where mindfulness leads.
For now, it’s dark outside and I need to shut down this screen.
It's common knowledge that gratitude improves quality of life. Simply put, when we feel grateful, we feel good. And feeling good makes life feel better.
When our daughter Helena was one year old, we began a family ritual. Every night as we sat down for dinner, before picking up a fork or taking one bite of food, we would share three things we're grateful for. What began as a way to bring more joy into our lives has not only lifted us up after long days at work. It has made us laugh and probably helped us digest our food better and eat more mindfully, too.
At first Helena would say, "I'm grateful for blueberries." That was it, blueberries. That was her thing for weeks on end. Other fruits entered the scene, and then it was "pink" for a while. Tonight at dinner it was, "All the colors." Her shares are almost always more laugh inducing than mine.
So in the spirit of this delightful child we've been blessed with, and in the spirit of The Child, who lives within each of us and freely shares her/his joy, let me share my Top Ten Gratitudes for the day. Just for today -- tomorrow they may be different.
As is the case with most of my writing, this is both an honest, personal share, and an invitation for you to explore what brings you joy... what you're grateful for... Both are an expression of my love for humanity: all of you, and me.
10) I'm grateful to have a pro skateboarder friend who's super kind and generous and will gladly send a few skateboarding goodies to me for my young skater pals' birthdays. His generosity feeds the healthy passions of my young pals.
9) I'm grateful for the last 3 weeks off Facebook. I don't miss it.
8) I'm grateful my ego gets weaker every day.
7) I'm grateful to like who I am, even though I sometimes piss off close friends with the bold things I'm not afraid to say.
6) I'm grateful for the college professor who encouraged me to write my own major.
5) I'm grateful my husband loves to cook, and is really good at it.
4) I'm grateful our daughter survived after being born with pneumonia.
3) I'm grateful for our backyard golden raspberries (pictured above). They are my favorite thing about our current home, ripening abundantly every spring.
2) I'm grateful to have studied communication since I was about 8 years old, even though it took childhood trauma to launch this passion.
1) I'm grateful for acupuncture, frisbee and smart friends to help me refine my resume.
It's addictive! See how I snuck in three on that last one? What are Y-O-U grateful for today?
Get out a pen, write down your ten. Choosing to feel grateful results in feeling more grateful. What we focus on, grows. Simple physics. What we acknowledge, we get more of. If your attention is on it, you are giving it power.
I'm grateful you just read my blog post.
My favorite holiday is coming up, you know..: Thanksgiving. For our family it's all about gratitude and great food. It's the one holiday that tends to come without a heavy focus on material things or candy, and it graces our autumn without a great deal of hurry, stress, a zillion parties and plans.
Then the big one comes: Christmas. Within days of Thanksgiving, many people are frenzied and making at least some, if not their best, effort to simplify every year.
For the latter, I'll suggest one way to radically honor your vision of a simplified season. It's very simple, as most of the things that matter in life are: SELF-LOVE. Nope, it isn't selfish. Not in the twisted way our culture -- and our own internal voices of criticism -- has led us to believe. Loving yourself isn't easy, either. I know plenty of wise, proactive people who wouldn't dare declare that self-love is easy. It takes courage, dedication, and sheer generosity as self-love is an expression of a desire to love and be kind and generous with all of life, actually.
Loving yourself makes you more generous with everyone you care about, too. Its value is endless, but 'let's start with the basics: If you're mailing out Christmas cards that say "Peace and Joy this Holiday Season" and you're a walking example of hurried, worried stress, well... Perhaps it's time to walk your talk.
Every single one of the wisest people I know starts their day in a way that places an anchor of self-awareness and presence into the hours that follow. Give yourself this basic piece, this basic gift of mindfulness. What 5-minute meditation would help you start your day centered, assisting you to speak, act and make decisions that benefit your peace of mind?
There are 10,000,000,000 (ten gaga-lillion) possibilities. Here's one to try on.
The peace I am is the peace I will give throughout this day.
Love is the core of my being, and I will spend this day in acceptance of that.
Everyone whose path I cross will benefit from my presence.
Today I speak and act from this deep place of serenity that can overcome anything.
Please share your ideas or findings here, oh generous you! And truly, THANK YOU for doing the simple, but definitely not always easy, work of loving yourself. THANK YOU for leaning into light. Shine on!
Jessica Rios, Founder of Leaning into Light, is a mother, Patreon Creator, freelance consultant and lifelong letter writer -- and eternally a fan of Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street. This deeply personal blog and our FREE recorded talks and workshops are devoted to one of her great passions: illuminating the beauty of the human spirit.