Today the California Senate passed one of the strictest school vaccination laws in the nation, SB277, removing the personal belief exemption for childhood vaccinations. Starting in July 2016, all children entering public or private school will be required to show proof of vaccinations.
If this legislation had passed four months ago, I would have been livid. At that time, I had just learned about the proposed law and I was very angry that my knowing, based on an informed process of observation and study over the course of a lifetime, would be "denied" and a law would force me to go against that knowing. I felt severely violated, and frankly, having heard 1,000s of mothers whose children were harmed, paralyzed or even eventually killed by vaccinations, I was freaked out. (No, I don't need "scientific" proof of what happened to these children; their mothers' knowing is proof enough for me.)
No one was going to force me to "care for" my child's body in a way that I felt would actually cause harm. Would we move to Sweden, my husband's native country, since its government is less influenced by corrupt industry? Where could we go where our choice would be honored?
I knew we could continue to empower extraordinary well being in our daughter. So why was I so angry? Major ego check here: because I felt I was right. And I wanted to "show" the world that my perspective about the pharmaceutical industry's influence on the media, medical profession and U.S. government, was right. And that felt yucky. Still I persevered, because something about it felt worthwhile. And it was. Until the day I decided not to. One day, after feeling defensive and "charged" about the issue for weeks, I accepted that my state of mind played a significant role in the situation. This whole conversation was about creating resilience in our children's immune systems. Was I creating resilience in my own immune system, in my own well being, when I was carrying around such irritability and distaste? Quite the opposite.
On that day I let go of being right, and I chose instead to be happy. We knew our decisions were based in love, moral goodness and well-being. There was no reason to be upset.
Today I can feel the anger rippling through my social webs as the news gets out about this law. Parents who planned to send their children to school, some with immunocompromised children whose bodies can't tolerate vaccinations, are really pissed off. I can relate; I felt that way too. (And if I ever tell you how to feel, please pinch me gently. Feelings are a high form of intelligence. They all have value.)
The beauty of the human experience is that we get to choose. Do we want to be right or do we want to be happy?
Happiness doesn't come from feeling right. Peace of mind stems from being aligned with our values in life, and this does not mean we need to convince other people that our way is the right way. In this human experience, there isn't one right way.
At least two gay couples I know and deeply respect, one male and one female couple, had illuminatingly inspiring, committed partnerships for many years before gay marriage become legal last week. Though they celebrated the equal rights vote and all it symbolized, they refused to let political laws have power over the one law that's real: the law of love. They loved each other, they enjoyed their lives, they lived together, they shared fun and fulfilling experiences.
Does empowerment come from the "outside" world or from within us? This vaccination law does not have power over anyone. Whether that leads families to choose homeschooling (or unschooling, which I like to call customized education) as a way to honor their values about medical choice and parental rights, or something else, there is a way. We may not see it now, but we have to believe it and then we will see it.
For those up for a rigorous spiritual shift, like the shifts my daughter consistently invites me to undertake, I challenge parents who feel imprisoned by this law to take a curious stance. What is possible now? How do I want to direct my energy? How does this not have power over me and my family? If I am afraid home schooling isn't an option for me, am I willing to see that differently, to open my mind to new possibilities appearing on my path?
As I wrote on Facebook earlier today--> The "mandatory" vaccination bill passes, and once again the world pretends to have power over us and our choices. Not! More home/un-schooling playmates for us! While I have great compassion for those who feel devastated by this news, I know that it is possible to transmute anger and related emotions, as I have done it myself in the past 4 months regarding this issue. Our state of mind is not determined by what happens in life, it is determined by how we are with it."
The world out there" does NOT have power over us. Our inner wisdom and our values, joy and knowing can and will light the way to a far more fascinating "reality" when we allow them to. We allow this when we listen, when we tune out the "noise" and tune in to the deepest, clearest voice inside ourselves -- our inner wisdom.
Rest assured, dear friends, there is a movement of mothers growing, a movement about honoring ourselves as women and guardians of our children's well being. (Yes fathers, you too.) And this movement won't thrive because we are right, or because something needs to be fixed. It will thrive because we are willing to honor our intuition, our findings (whether "proven" scientifically or not), and our tremendous sense of love for our children.
May this movement of mothers who listen within, and honor our voices, rise up and be heard. May we refuse to suppress what we know. May we celebrate and revere the deep, primal wisdom we offer our children. May all children thrive!
Since our daughter was born in the spring of 2013, I have experienced thousands of moments of feeling profoundly in love. It isn't just when she beams light through her eyes. It isn't just because I feel like the best me I can be, in my role as her mama. It is all sorts of moments. When a tantrum bubbles-up from her passionate emotions, I feel in love with her honesty and full permission to express her needs. When she resists leaving the playground I feel in love with her invitation to be a more effective communicator and guide. I even feel that deep in-love-ness when I change her poo diaper. Her digestion is working; how miraculous is that!?
I am in love with her more consistently than I have ever felt in love with anything. And I am completely not unique here. So, so many parents relate to this almost bewildering sense of love.
Glancing back at my entire life, this feeling of love for children most universally captures the sense of joy, and innocence, freedom and delight, purity and raw, perfect beauty we are capable of feeling as humans. Effortlessly evoked within us by the presence of a child.
So it is evoked. We feel bliss. We feel completely enchanted. Our eyes get dewy. Then what?
What if... the impact of children settled in within us a bit deeper than we currently let it?
What if... we allowed that feeling of love evoked by children, to guide our lives more fully?
Nothing in my life has ever set "the bar" higher than Helena's existence. The love I feel for her means I do not swallow my bold words; I honor my feelings and intuition despite a culture that may see differently. I take better care of my body. I am more committed to my spiritual practice than before she was conceived. Her impact sends me on a deep-whale-dive to express more joy in this life. It means all that and so much more. The love I feel for her has raised the bar for everything.
So what? What does a "raised bar" mean? Given that our lives play out in as many different ways as there are people, I imagine the answer will be different for everyone. And I am also curious if some patterns emerge. This is one of the biggest questions ever to surface within me; it gets at the deepest existential questions and roots of our being.
If you relate to this feeling of being profoundly in love with the presence of children -- if you feel called forth to devote yourself more fully to "goodness" in whatever form that takes for you -- then what does that look like? Will you share?
If the astounding beauty we can so easily see in children were to have its greatest impact on us as adults, then what..? What would that look like in your life?
Eighteen years ago on a solo trip to Kauai, I sat in the passenger seat of my new friend Tom's little old blue Toyota truck. He was in his 60s then, and deeply devoted to spiritual awareness in a way that had many people, including me, stand in admiration. We were headed to the hardware store for a tool he needed. Feeling like it was a privilege to be in his company, I turned to him and said, "It's an honor to be with you.
He paused, turned to me and said, "Darling?"
And I answered, "Yes?"
"We're family, right?" he asked.
"OK, then let's not play that game."
He was talking about the "special game." An ego game. The game where we make some people more special, more valuable, than ourselves or other people. Holier than thou, guru-esque, or the reverse: inferior, subpar, not worthy of admiration or attention. This simply isn't true in spirit, and he knew I would appreciate being reminded of that.
My ego was crushed; I felt like a dummy. But after about two minutes passed by, a massive sense of calm washed over me and I was exceptionally grateful for his willingness to be so bold and fierce in showing love.
It sure hit home. That was one of the last times I put someone on a pedestal.
Relapsing into ego's allure years later while dating a famous man, I made up that he was pretty darned hot-ticket-special until one day my coach's words finally hit home: "He doesn't have a corner on the market. The source is within you." An echo of Tom's message, profound wisdom, which I eventually took to heart.
I remember going to conferences where an influential, buzzingly brilliant someone would talk and I'd be riveted with inspiration, noticing the flock of audience members lining up after the speech, some with star-gazed eyes, beneath which I could sense an inner emptiness, an I'm-special-if-I-say-something-smart-and-they-like-me sort of daze. And I'd notice how complete it felt to just be inspired without needing to approach the person at the podium.
Putting someone on a pedestal or allowing someone else to put you on one --> same dance. A misperception of the innate equality of all beings, the fact that we are all completely loved and lovable, despite appearances or circumstances.
If we want to be at peace, we aren't meant to fall for appearances. We are meant to look beyond them.
I couldn't really relate to how Tom felt, with me putting him on a pedestal, until I felt somebody put me on one. A sense of being judged for my humanity had me feeling perplexed, and I could only make up that somehow I had unintentionally conveyed that I'm Miss Goody Two Shoes. I so am not. Just because Love is my religion and I have been vocal about this for many years doesn't mean I don't slip-up regularly, falling into ego thoughts of criticism, ignorance, depression, shame and frustration.
Being put on a pedestal means you will fall from one. While dramatic and exciting in a roller-coaster sort of way, it is far more peaceful to rest in the humility of accepting this human experience the best we can, and committing to the memory of who we really are, which is so strikingly beautiful and beyond our current awareness that a pedestal couldn't begin to hold it up.
Ever sit back and appreciate how one unfortunate experience, that you may have been really bummed about at the time, led to something spectacular that you never would have dreamt-up on your own? How brilliant life is, how friendly the universe can be, how silver linings are available to us whenever that's where we choose to focus our attention?
When life is difficult, we can choose to make up that life dislikes us, that God or our parents abandoned us, that we aren't gifted or deserving or good looking enough.
I've done all of that before. And it hasn't worked so well.
What has worked well is leaning on a slice of wisdom I believe in: It's all in perfect order. In my core, I know that's true, even with the horrific pain life can sometimes present. When I ask myself, "How is this perfect?" in the face of a struggle, I can literally feel a layer of difficulty dissolving. And if I continue asking, leaning into those silver linings -- How is this perfect? -- eventually all the layers of difficulty disappear.
When a butterfly landed next to my foot after an outdoor massage last summer, I made up that life is lovely. Nothing sophisticated, just a simple sense of how generous beauty can be.
Usually for me it takes being past a certain struggle, a month or even a year, to see what purpose that struggle had. And I "made up" that purpose, because it's all made up. (For kicks, check out this company named It's All Made Up, Inc.). As my long time spiritual mentor and friend Tom has shared many times, we give things the meaning they have for us.
In the past year of experiencing difficulty in the work arena, feeling confused about why clients weren't landing as often as I wanted them to, I have often chosen to feel disappointed. When that grew stale, I finally accepted that I am responsible for my thoughts, and for shifting my experience. Though we can turn to people who call themselves healers, we are the only ones capable of "healing" ourselves, and all we really heal is our thoughts.
Once we take the power back, choosing to empower ourselves instead of giving power to external circumstances, silver linings can start shining brightly. Some of the silver linings I've discovered in the presence of recent struggles are: I'm writing more; I'm creating greater integrity in my relationship with money; I'm doing what 100s of parents have advised me to do, and reveling in my daughter's earliest years by spending every day with her... ("Enjoy every minute; childhood flies by fast.")
And to top it all off, my husband and I have had few to no (gosh have we had any?) arguments in our almost 4 years together. We certainly have disagreements here and there but the rock-solidness of our partnership has stood super, super strong amidst considerable periods of challenge. How's that for a silver lining?
Whatever the struggle you may be facing -- and most people face struggles right now -- even when you can't see them, there are countless silver linings. Giant ones, tiny ones. What beautiful gifts are you receiving as the bumps bump along? What generosity has life spilled upon your lap even while you dance in your difficulty?
Jessica Rios, Founder of Leaning into Light, is a mother, coach, lifelong letter writer, and eternal fan of Mr. (Fred) Rogers. This deeply personal blog and our free recorded conversations are devoted to one of her greatest passions: illuminating the beauty of the human spirit.