Today marks 92 days out of pain from severe sciatica. Most cases last 2-3 weeks; mine lasted 12. A mirror stands in front of me, now free from an embodiment of lightning in my rear left thigh just as long as I seemed to be imprisoned by it. Though the pain was horrific, the gifts offered by this trauma outweigh it 10,000-fold. Trauma presented a doorway to bliss I never knew existed.
Succinct isn't my middle name. I write like flowers bloom. My heart writes for me. She is unlimited. She spills, she's wide, she's vast. Yet sometimes brief is worth a try. So here I go.
When it takes nine hours of heavy opiates to cut thunderous pain from your thigh, you are then gifted with patience while standing in a grocery store line.
Thank you, trauma.
When your pain is on such hellfire you either ask for help 200 times a day or suffer more, you never hesitate to ask for help again -- and are gifted now, with eyes that see Love's constant motion via the act of giving and receiving. Giving and receiving. We were born to serve each other.
Thank you, trauma.
When you wonder if dying would be better than feeling pain like this another day, and you breathe, and you breathe, reminded that all you can do is your best in this. moment. now... You've been given a heavy dose of Wake-Up! And on those days when you're stressed out or grumpy, afraid our planet is dying and our species is going extinct, well... then again you remember that while you might not be able to save the planet from sinking, you can still do your best in this moment now. Healing doesn't live in tomorrow. It lives now.
Thank you, trauma... for endless invincible truths that offer freedom.
All I can do, I now see, is choose Love over fear in one moment and then the next. Even if the limitless version of me -- the Oneness in which our truth resides -- is pain-free, I love being here in a body for now. I choose this Life, and Life chooses me. I am breathing. I have walked through trauma's doorway, holding hands with the divine.
Thank you, trauma.
Today I choose to focus on where the glass is half-full, not half-empty. Brain surgery for a massive tumor followed two months later by severe chronic pain? OK. Well guess what? I've never been raped. I wasn't abused as a child. I've never been physically locked up or chained in enslavement. I have food to eat and a safe bed to sleep in. My daughter is alive and healthy. OK?
Thank you, trauma.
Empathy in me is oceans deep. For those of you who've experienced sciatica or other forms of striking pain, I wish you peace of mind and ease in body. One day I will finish Ten Steps to Heal Sciatica. For now, here's Step 1 out of 10 and Step 2 out of 10: Reduce Pain and Inflammation.
Today I celebrate the gift of Life in a body, and the glorious gifts trauma has given me. How about you? What are you celebrating today?
A wise friend once said, “Life is sad and beautiful.” Her simple words were eloquent and profound. It’s true, I thought, this is the range of human experience, so wide. It’s not fun living on the sad end of the range, yet no one gets to escape this part. It’s part of the human experience.
Eight years ago I gave birth at home to a baby girl two weeks and three days prematurely. Two hours after she emerged from my body, our midwife calmly told us she wasn’t breathing well and that I needed to get dressed and go to the hospital. I went into shock. Raw and unmedicated, my entirety felt ripped apart by desperate, frozen thunder.
Inside the ambulance, the paramedic flicked the bottom of our baby girl’s feet to keep her lungs stimulated. Her father and I spent day and night after day and night in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) as her lungs received support to grow healthy. On her 10th day of life outside my body, we took her home.
In the weeks that followed, I fed our precious baby my breast milk and was supported by a well respected Lactation Consultant. When she told me that my milk supply was low because my breasts’ milk ducts were arranged differently than most mothers’, my being felt ruptured again. What? My body could not feed my baby?
A silver lining appeared. I was introduced to a woman named Mary who had an oversupply of healthy breastmilk. Her milk was just right for our daughter as she had given birth just five weeks before I had which meant our babies’ nutritional needs were similar. Mary and I shared a fierce bond. Our daughter was fed largely by Mama Mary, someone with whom I share core values and whose milk I trusted. I’d pick up small, tall glass jars of her milk and stock our refrigerator weekly. My soul’s Village values shone bright and a new human life became fully nutritionally nourished.
Still, the shock and trauma I had experienced after giving birth struck me on deep levels. I entered 13 months of postpartum depression, even in the presence of the greatest Love I’d ever known: our child. Even in the presence of her highly devoted father. Even in the presence of world class friends and an attentive, loving family.
Thirteen months was a long time to feel down. Our daughter received a lot of love and affection, she was held by our arms and in her carrier, I sang to her and we read to her, and her lungs worked great. Still, something had lodged itself within my consciousness that kept my inner skies gray.
Then one day, I decided I wanted to exit. I wanted to rise up. I wanted to find a land where joy was daily, where the songs I’d sing to her filled our home with bright smiles and silliness. This can’t be difficult, I thought.
It was springtime. My little lady, with her toddling new steps, stepped out of our front yard onto the sidewalk with me. Renowned spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle came to mind as his distinct capacity to be present seemed to slip into the fresh April air. The essence of Ram Dass’ book, Be Here Now, planted itself in my mind.
This moment, now... I thought. What do I want?
I took one step forward and stopped in that position, one foot in front of the other.
Ahh, the sun feels so good on my face.
Another step, and pause.
Goodness, we have a healthy daughter! WOW, wow, wow! How fortunate we are.
Her voice makes my heart do kartwheels. She is a dream come true!
As my daughter toddled along the sidewalk giggling and plucking flower petals off the ground, it struck me that all of a sudden, I felt lighter than I had when we walked out the door. God this felt good. I continued.
I have legs to walk. We have hills in our neighborhood. I love walking up hills!
Another step forward, another pause.
Where we live, the air is clean and feels so good to breathe in… I love this fresh air!
I could kiss her cheeks and belly 1,000 times a day.
As we walked past neighbors’ homes admiring trees, I realized I felt noticeably better. My heart was light, right now. And in the next right now. I was not depressed. Not right now.
Another step forward and pause.
We have fresh food to eat, grown organically. Love for our bodies, Love for the Earth.
It was that simple.
When I could have chosen antidepressants or coping with overeating (which I had chosen in the past), I chose a simple exit into a place of feeling good. Whichever option is chosen does not change whether that person is lovable; I am simply glad that in this situation, I chose a way out that didn’t hurt.
We are all doing our best. Depression is something many people experience and we all make the choices we need to, to cope, process and heal.
Seven years later, I find myself applying this same simple practice as I move through recovery from neurosurgery. Is there pain? Yep. Is there fear? More than I ever thought I’d face. Are the answers complicated and difficult? No, they are not. One step after another, one day at a time, I can choose — as can you — to live in the only moment there is: Now. In this moment right now, I can choose to notice beauty, joy, and all the things I’m grateful for. In this moment right now, I can give thanks for how my body communicates with me so precisely. As does yours, with you.
Alternatively, we can choose to place blame, we can choose to focus on negativity in our physical body or in the world, we can choose to feel bad. Regardless of the circumstances, we are free to choose.
To anyone experiencing depression, fear or anxiety, I share up this simple tool to bring yourself to a brighter state of mind. Your choice. You choose. Step outside and one step at a time, one moment at a time, focus on what feels good. You are the creator of your state of mind, and by the way, you are radically beautiful. Notice that. It’s all up to you.
Are these tough times? Oh my. Our U.S. Postal Service is really struggling, and that's no good. We've got one of the best postal services in the world. It's a very positive element of our country.
Yet there's SO much beauty spilling out of the cracks these days. Huge light, beaming from all sorts of awkward and fresh-brewed places. People are buying postage stamps to try to help save the USPS. People are helping each other with groceries and other errands. People are slowing down.
Three friends today sent me the same very, very sweet news link. An 11-year-old girl and her postal mail magic. She is spreading joy, uplifting others, and her story rocked my world. Here's a glimpse of some real-life magic, straight from the heart of a child.
In a nutshell, the message I'm extending to you right now is this:
Love is the most powerful force in the universe.
You've got the power of Love in your hands.
And one very easy way to express it is through a hand written letter.
So get out your pen! Life is slower these days for most of us. Grab. A. Pen. And a postage stamp. You can easily make an envelope if you don't have one already. Writing to somebody you care about is a very kind thing to do. Your recipient will be moved, touched, honored.
It's been a long winter in California. While grateful for rain, it seems everyone was out hiking or otherwise soaking up the sun this weekend. Finally, spring came.
Spring has a way of inviting humans to open up like flowers: our smiles, our sidewalk hellos, our eagerness to create and connect.
Spring says, "Come, try something new, let me see your petals too."
One way I show my color, my petals, the life inside of me -- is through letter writing. This spring I'll begin a yearlong workshop guiding participants to create or deepen intimacy with key areas of life: your body, food, family, friends, money, ancestry, home. We'll write letters to all these areas, these places where we are in relationship.
Life is relationship. Just as we can share human experience and deepen connection with a close friend or spouse, we can do this with non-human relations. Truthfully relating with anything or anyone -- in this case, through letter writing -- brings enhanced mindfulness, communication, and personal power.
Participants can join in person north of San Francisco in Sonoma County at Literic Petaluma, where I will lead the workshop. Those unable to attend in person can join the separate (but similar in content) online version, which I will post the week after.
I've written thousands of cards and letters in my life.
Some delivered, some not. Some graceful, some clumsy. Some potent with love and wisdom, some flapping in a sea of insecurity.
Each letter has given me greater clarity about who I am and what I want. Each piece of hand written correspondence has conveyed to its recipient, however short of long, that I value them and want them in my life. Some friends have hundreds of letters and cards from me tucked away in a box. Not emails, as those can't be touched.
Letters please the senses. Letters say spring.
If you want to deepen intimacy with key areas of your life, infusing your world with truth telling power and vision in ink, on paper, for the senses, for the fullness of life... Join us! If you're in Petaluma, call or email Literic at email@example.com / (707) 658-1751 to sign up. Cost per workshop is $30.
Those of you who read my blog regularly are likely aware that I'm not talking about money. I am talking about what makes us truly rich, not financially rich.
I'm talking about relationships. Any not just the romantic kind.
Your long time closest friend. Your newest close friend. Your uncle, your mother, your hilarious free-spirited cousin. Your postman, postwoman or favorite barista. Your next door neighbor who gives you butter or lemons when you run out. Your spouse. Your boss. Your daughter. Your dog.
One of the most comprehensive studies of emotional well being in history, The Harvard Study of Adult Development, found the one thing that makes people happy is good relationships. What does this mean, in simple terms? "They care about me and I care about them," says masterful relationship coach Charles Zook.
What does this have to do with being rich?
To be happy is to be rich. To genuinely feel satisfied with what you have, to exhale daily thanks for your health and family, to revel in the majestically giving and gorgeous planet we get to call Home. Happiness gives us a feeling of being so-filled-up, we're rich. Full. Basking. Profoundly grateful.
Showing love has been my thing since early childhood. Giving eager hugs to my aunt Irma, telling my parents I love them, writing letters to friends in the mail... It has always been a high priority for me to invest in relationships. It feels natural. It feels real. It feels good.
So it struck me a few years ago that calling people rich primarily or only when they have abundant financial resources is a very silly thing. That isn't true richness. Money is useful, important, yes. But it isn't what makes us rich -- not in my values system.
Love makes us rich. And where do we give and receive Love? In our relationships. With ourselves, and with the people we hold most dear.
If you are starting to feel swallowed up in the commercial culture of heart-shaped candy and red roses surfacing for Valentine's Day, I feel for you. Making a consumer issue out of Love is rather sick.
Yet, though the culture has a big impact on us, it does not have power over us. You can choose to feed your sense of richness, feed your joy, by doing one simple and profoundly enriching thing: Feed Your Relationships.
Today, give this to yourself. Don't let yourself be under-fed. How? Pick someone in your life, call them and be curious. Be interested. How are they really doing? Have they healed from the death of their loved one? What are they creating these days? Where do they see themselves in 20 years?
Yes it is very simple. Still yes, we need reminders.
Go for a hike with a friend. Call your aunt and uncle to congratulate them for 55 years of marriage. Ask your dad if he needs help with his computer, or anything else. Thank your postal delivery person for their work, rain or shine.
This month, invest your time and voice in your own richness by showing Love to those who you value in this one precious life.
Ever since high school, I have been into this thing called leadership. Holding various leading positions, starting non-profits and businesses, following the recipe: 1) Listen for the fire in your soul, 2) Clarify your vision, 3) Make it happen with your voice, hands and heart. Always holding a vision for what the world would look like if your big dream came true.
That vision of what is possible can help you rise out of bed every day. It can put a spark in your step. It can motivate you to put in that extra hour of work, believing in something you cannot see with your eyes.
Yet until recently, there was something missing for me. It had to do with being too focused on my vision, too caught up in making it happen, not relaxed enough to feel a true sense of enjoyment about it all. At times I got so caught up in trying to make something happen, that it gave me severely painful multi-day migraine headaches. Too much pressure.
What was missing was a simple practice, a new way of being with leadership. This new way kept tugging at the back of my neck, gently, a little more every day…
One day at a time. That is all I can do.
One day at a time. That is all I am being asked.
It’s a whisper in society’s sea of noise...
One day at a time.
The first time I remember practicing this was to try and get out of a 13 month postpartum depression. I had gone through trauma starting two hours after my daughter was born, and in the days that followed, some of the things I noticed about our world felt really, really sad. It was a heavy load to carry on my mind, and I didn’t really know how to get out.
One day it struck me that I was the only one who could break this cycle for myself, creating peace of mind and a sense of contentedness. I decided I would engage in a simple process of asking myself questions, one moment after the next.
Springtime sent the scent of lilac across our front patio, through our front door. Following the heavenly lure, I stepped out for a walk. I took one step forward, my daughter in her flower-picking state of toddling glee, and paused to silently ask myself, “In this moment, am I depressed?”
“No!” I responded, again quietly, “In this moment I am walking on a sunny day, with my healthy child. I feel grateful.”
With my next step, I paused again to ask. My response was, “In this moment I am admiring a cheerful, crisp purple paint job on my neighbor’s house, my daughter is laughing, I feel good.”
Within moments I realized I had taken the power back from my own cyclical sad thoughts. I could decide with each step, how to feel. And within a few days the dense fog that sat with me for 13 months was lifted.
That was four years ago. Since then, I’ve experienced dozens of highly challenging situations and adventures. What seems to be rising to the surface is this simple way of living taught by many living and ascended masters. Take life one day at a time. Take life one moment at a time. One step, pause… Here we are now.
It doesn’t interest me to dive into the question of why we get so caught up in the future, or in the past.
What interests me is sharing with you how much freedom greets me when I take life one day at a time. How much freedom is available to you, through your own choice about where you put your attention. All it takes is the awareness that when you feel tense or strained, unpleasant or frustrated, you can check in and bring yourself back to this day. Feel what you’re feeling now, even if it hurts. But don’t feel what you might be feeling tomorrow, because you’ll never be there.
You can only be here, today, now.
And I suppose that’s the truth behind it all. Tomorrow never comes, it is only a dream that tries to take us away from this precious present.
May you remember in this moment -- as you read these words -- how loved you are, how brightly the earth shone on the day you were born. May you look around you and focus on what you appreciate, knowing your appreciation and attention will help it grow. Listen within for your leadership vision, clarify it, give yourself to it, and let it go so you can enjoy this one precious day you’re living in.
Turn off the TV, put your cell phone away for the weekend. Screens aren’t so helpful in magnifying the beauty of the now.
Stare at the sunlight bouncing off your Marigolds in the garden. Listen to the soft texture of the wind. Somewhere, an elder is being served warm tea, her wrinkled hands shaking in thanks as somebody values and cares for her. Somewhere, somebody is opening a handwritten letter they got in the mail today.
One day at a time, may the light within us rise.
It's late morning on day three at Findhorn, 450 miles north of London on the Scottish coast. I'm sitting cross legged on a maroon love seat while a blooming lilac bush outside darts back and forth in a dance orchestrated by a cool breeze and a drizzle of rain.
With each day that passes, I feel more here. More me. More in the now. For three nights I've slept more deeply than I have in five years.
I first heard of Findhorn through Tom Carpenter, my spiritual mentor of 21 years, who has given talks here before. It's been a distant trickle in my mind since then, and now with five years of devoted mothering behind me, I walk on its soil. I am here in celebration of all I have given to and learned from my precious daughter — I am here on retreat to write, rest and refuel a bit.
Every few steps I take on this land, I am stopped. My chest feels throttled by the outright and subtle beauty, and my jaw drops in awe, invoking silence or some sort of, "Whaaaat? Are you kidding me?" This place is outrageously charming, tended to over the years for hundreds of thousands of hours by many, many people who love to create beauty in the outer world and within their own being. It's what Findhorn Foundation's all about. Listening for the divine within, doing our inner work as we tend to this miraculously rich and generous planet we call home.
It's striking. It's remarkable. What they've done all these years since the three founders began on a flat patch of relatively barren ground — a magical community now exists for over 100 people who live here and thousands of visitors who come for retreats every year.
Yet as I am floored by the beauty, tears of admiration swelling from my eyes, I notice something else too — I feel hurt. Like my heart is broken. So I listen for what's there.
What I notice is that the beauty I see and feel at Findhorn is a huge contrast to the environment I've been living in the past 10 months. We have been living in a city of 400,000 people, and for me that's a harsh amount of exposure to human noise, machines and concrete. The contrast between here and there hurts.
Here, it's like I'm falling back into the arms of the beauty I want to hold me. Back into the pleasure and yes-ness I feel when immersed in a place where Earth is respected and people actively engage in their spiritual practice, whatever it is. Back to... a place that feels like Home.
So I fall, and the hurt comes and goes for a day, and then it's gone. As soon as I let myself feel all the "ouch" of contrast, as soon as I remember I can bring elements of this place back with me when I leave, the hurt melts away.
I hug a majestic, wide-canopied tree in bloom and carry on.
Writing this post is part self-therapy and life processing, and part share and invitation — especially for those of you who have really wanted to visit Findhorn and have yet to come. At least a few people have told me with a song of longing in your hearts, "Ohhhh I have wanted to go to Findhorn for years." If you've wanted to visit, how about: Book your trip! Not ready for that yet? Write a date on your calendar to book a ticket.
You're perfectly lovable no matter where you go in life, and... if you really want something, why not open up and let it in?
Since I'm not on social media for a year or so, this is where I'll share my Findhorn photos. Below are several brief slideshows to give you a peek into this place.
Whoever and wherever you are, I hope you enjoy this little tour through one of the most enchanted spots on Earth.
slideshow one: en route from airport & arriving
slideshow two: the awe keeps on awe-ing
slideshow three: compassion & more gardens
slideshow four: kissing flowers & such
slide show five: more beauty
slideshow six: epic stonework & a nearby village
slideshow seven: come closer
slideshow eight: death, gnomes and unicorns
slideshow nine: laughter & stained glass
That's a wrap.
With love for the beauty inside of YOU~
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 in the Natural Parent magazine, New Zealand
Idealism can be a blessing and a curse. To be at peace we must surrender our ideals at times rather than clinging to high dreams. Yet the imagination is a gift, and if we are in love with the human spirit — as I am — we ask ourselves which elements of society best honor the human spirit, and which do not. In this article I will leave out criticisms of school, its original design, and how it fails young humans and our future. Those critiques are not the best use of my writing. Sharing what I believe does serve life, is.
What I will assert is that all children are naturally curious. All children are born ready to learn, and homeschooling is a brilliant way to honor a child’s inherent beauty and wholeness.
Once led by religious families who wanted God to be central in their education, the homeschooling movement is now comprised largely of families who simply want their children’s learning to be natural. Less forced, more free.
Consider 30-year-old Tiffany Smith, who was homeschooled from 4th-12th grade and completed all her degrees, Associates through Doctorate, online. “My mom paved the way for child-led learning for me. She let me choose what I wanted to learn. I graduated two years early, valedictorian out of a class of 600 in our homeschooling program, then went on to achieve awards and graduate with honors for every degree. I am very grateful for my mom’s faith in me.”
On average, two hours per day are required for a homeschooled child to learn the subject matter. In school, this is found to be the actual amount of time spent learning subjects.
How about socialization? The myth that homeschooled kids are largely under-socialized is amusing to me at this point. Homeschooled kids overall do not lack social skills in contrast to schooled kids. In my experience, homeschooled kids often possess unusual levels of maturity in social scenarios, including a noted ability to interact with adults.
My own self-directed learning journey began in college when I stepped into a professor’s office in tears about something disturbing I had learned in his class. He listened attentively, said I’m not an average student and that I might want to write my own major. We opened the Course Catalog, I chose courses that were highly appealing and spoke to my strongest curiosities, and two years later I graduated with a BA in Social Ecology and Personal Ethics.
No, those two years weren’t easy. Charting a homeschooling path for our own children isn’t easy, either.
Most parents who homeschool their kids find themselves asking, every so often, Was I crazy to do this!? Yet quickly they bounce back to being 100% convinced it is the richest and most joyful educational path, worth all the time and heart, courage and vision it entails.
As with any rich topic worth exploring, it’s wise to keep an open mind and trade defensiveness for curiosity.
Conversations about parenting and how we educate our children can lead to divisive degrees of blame and other negative emotions and communication dynamics. School teachers and parents who feel judged or threatened by the idea or practice of homeschooling are a prime example. Yet it is possible to find teachers and parents with open minds, who accept that we don’t all need to see or choose like each other. Chances are, you will find open minds when yours, too, is open. That said, don’t expect to find these conversations easy at every turn. This is not the easy path.
I don’t want to paint an excruciatingly rough picture, and I also don’t want to portray homeschool life as “eating Bon Bons on the sofa all day.” One defensive school teacher mom voiced this remark and I mention it as a reminder that those who choose to homeschool are in the courageous minority — fast growing, yet requiring maturity to face ignorant perspectives like this, and then move on.
Thank goodness we are well supported by our own primal instincts and maternal intuition, by studies, and by a blossoming number of well informed leaders and organizations.
Turning to other moms is my Step Numero Uno when facing a tough issue or decision. Half of the time, that’s all I need. Where I live in coastal Northern California, there’s an abundance of homeschooling and the well informed open-mindedness required to do it well. When a mama friend isn’t enough to solve my problem, I reach for movement leaders and organizations with deep wells of wisdom and resources to share.
Wild + Free began as a small community of Instagram’ing mamas on the U.S. east coast and grew a ton in recent years. At the heart of W+F is the desire to give children a quality education while preserving the wonder, freedom and adventure of childhood. Recent articles released by W+F include Shaping Souls that Break the Mold, The Lost Art of the Family Walk and Nature Journaling the Human Body. “For as long as humans have lived on this earth, children have been schooled at home. Still, we homeschooling mamas often feel like pioneers forging a new path for the next generation,” writes W+F founder Ainsley Arment.
Feel the spirit? Pioneering requires great courage, so having a supportive community is essential.
Self-Directed Learning advocate Blake Boles quit his college astrophysics program to design his own degree in alternative education. Blake leads teenagers on international self-directed learning trips through his company Unschool Adventures, and is the author of three books including The Art of Self-Directed Learning (2014) and College Without High School (2009). He also wrote one of the most compelling pieces I’ve ever read on education: What Does it Mean to be Educated?
Thirsty for a deep critique of school? Turn to one of the greatest minds in the homeschooling movement, former New York State and NYC Teacher of the Year John Taylor Gatto, who wrote Dumbing Us Down and The Underground History of American Education.
Speaking in London on The Purpose of Education in 2012, Noam Chomsky rolled out genius reflections that may be tough for some to swallow yet will thrill anyone who is open minded and interested in the brave pursuit of an authentic life for self and child.
School reformer, youth rights theory pioneer and former classroom teacher John Holt (1923-1985) published several books including the popular How Children Fail and How Children Learn.
Numerous groups are available online for homeschooling families. Laura Grace Weldon’s Free Range Learning Community is one of my favorites. For bedtime reading without the glare of blue light escorting your dream state, her book Free-Range Learning beautifully explores the meaning and importance of natural learning.
Unschooling is a form of homeschooling guided by the learner, where self-chosen activities and life experiences of the learner lead the way. The Alliance for Self-Directed Education created a fantastic short video for those curious about what self-directed education means and why it’s beneficial for learners.
Most of the homeschooling parents I know are far-out passionate about providing a rich educational life for their children, one rooted in the most natural way young humans learn — based on interest, with freedom to play, non-coercively.
Yet for many parents who want to homeschool, it just doesn’t work out. For many families, school is an easier path for one reason or another.
Lifestyle and income play a huge role. Often in homeschooling families, Papa works at a paid job full time and Mama leads the homeschooling journey (on top of her other unpaid jobs). But this recipe doesn’t work for everyone, and it doesn’t work for my family. As with any path worth walking, this one requires a willingness to explore possibilities and see what works for you. Buying less stuff? That helps. Spending more time with our children sometimes asks that we be willing to downsize, live minimally.
Parenting is the big work of life. We are all doing our best. A mother’s intuition is one of a child’s greatest allies. After all, as Laura Grace Weldon wrote, Mother and Child are Linked at a Cellular Level. Humanity will become more clear of this in time.
Be honest about what you want. Find community to lean on.
In the words of former Waldorf teacher and homeschooling mother of three Melanie Heysek-Macdonald, “Do what feels right for you. There is lots to consider, and there are so many options for what’s right out there.”
Sometimes life feels hard. And sure enough, sometimes circumstances are muddy, mucky and real rough. Especially with our closest relationships, things can be intensely challenging.
Sometimes though, we make our own lives more difficult — usually without realizing we’re doing it. Each of us has much more power to influence our lives than we accept.
The good news is that this is changing.
Every time one of us steps up to sharpen our communication skills, we bring more skillfulness and humility to our relationships. And every time that happens, the world becomes a place that is more loving, safe and kind.
Whenever I discover a simple tool that helps bring about this kind of world, I share it. Reflective Listening is a widely known skill in the world of interpersonal communication, coaching and couples therapy. It is exceptionally simple and I’ve detailed it below so you can practice. All humans would benefit from communication classes starting at a young age, with this exercise being practiced starting around age 10.
If you’re in a committed partnership with someone who’s open to learning new things and wants to see the relationship become more fulfilling over time — someone who’s willing to do their part and not just expect things to improve on their own — you are fortunate. Practice with them. I am extremely thankful my husband is willing to use these tools with me. Reflective Listening has been transformative for our our marriage.
Otherwise, ask a good friend or family member to practice with you. It doesn’t have to be deep or intense -- you can talk about ice cream or travel if you want.
For a short taste of what it’s like, you can take 10 minutes, five each, trading places halfway through. For a fuller experience that might be more rewarding, set aside a whole hour and each take 30 minutes. Or, you can have your turn today as Sharer, or Listener, and switch places tomorrow.
Benefits of Reflective Listening often include:
Ready for some of that sweetness?
Reflective Listening: The Basics
Try it, let me know how it goes for you, send me an email if you want to share what worked and what didn't. Be gentle with yourself. Even a simple exercise can be challenging, especially when it has the potential to bring about so many positive changes.
And if you find yourself all jazzed up about the power of Reflective Listening, share this link with a friend who’s struggling in relationship. Or if you have the spirit of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and Sesame Street running through your veins like I do, and being a good friend is enormously important to you in life, call a friend on the phone today and tell them you want to gift them 20 minutes of your time, as Listener in this exercise. Lead them through it.
It feels really, really good to have someone truly listen.
Of the hundreds of people I’ve met and had conversations with, there are probably 10 who I consider to be masterful listeners. To those people, thank you. I’m not there — yet. I am definitely on my way. To all of us who are heading that direction, kudos, it is good to be in your company!
Jessica Rios, Founder of Leaning into Light, is a mother, Love-based leader, lifelong letter writer, and eternal fan of Mr. 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.