My husband Ivan and I do not happen to adhere to the practices of any organized religion, and before we had kids that seemed to be working just fine. We come from different backgrounds (mine agnostic with varying degrees of Christianity in my heritage, his a mix between Jewish and agnostic), but had generally landed in the same spot in adulthood: We believe in a Higher Power, and He or She may or may not be bearded (which does not necessarily designate gender; perhaps just a divine aversion to wax). However, it’s hard for us to believe that there could be one correct path to Know It, or one accurate story behind It. Wouldn’t that one right imply so many wrongs? Surely His Awesome Beardedness would not make Himself available to only a select few with the most accurate tracking system.
As one philosophical analogy goes, he may, in fact, be more like an Elephant; while we mortals are all blindfolded, feeling only the part of Him that we can reach, bumbling around and trying to identify what He is. Some of us are touching the tail; others caressing the ears or the trunk, while I can only hope that child molesters and certain talk radio hosts have their hands right up the a**hole.
When we try to describe our experiences to one another, they understandably don’t jibe. But if we had some way to remove the blindfold, aside from getting hit by a bus, I truly believe that the Big Reveal would show that we are all, in fact, exploring different parts of the same entity. The world would be a much more peaceful place if we could respect one another’s quest to identify what’s within his grasp, and encourage each other’s pursuits with phrases like: “Keep stroking that tail, my friend”, “Feel the strength of that trunk, neighbor”, or “Rush, get your hand up there just a little further; I think you’ve almost got it.”
So Ivan and I are ambling along, not sure what part of the Elephant we are trying to identify but recognizing that it’s bigger than we are, when low and behold I end up pregnant. (Hahahaha, men who are reading this, you’re right, that wasn’t the elephant I was feeling that night. You’re hilarious and so predictable! Moving on.)
It became apparent to me after mere weeks of pregnancy that this child, who was currently the size of a rice kernel, had greatly elevated some family members’ level of interest in our spiritual beliefs, and lowered their tolerance for our nebulous, “We All Share The Same Light” approach to religion. We realized that we were going to be required to address some Big Questions; not just from adults, but more importantly from this tiny blank slate of a human that we had created. Since then, we have been trying to formulate our answers, and also our questions, in a coherent way. Our son Ben is now 6, and has a 4-year-old sister and a 2-year-old brother, so clearly we did not make quick work of our task. But a renewed fire was lit under us when Ben recently asked (after an apparent discussion with friends) if we could look up “Heaven” on Google Maps, because he didn’t know where it was. Before he asked if he could friend Buddha on Facebook, we needed to get to it…
Now before I go on, I need to make clear that I do not have any problem with raising children of specific faith. I think that great community, shared values and traditions can be celebrated if you feel the Elephant’s ear, and you find a group of people who also feels the Elephant’s ear and embraces its silky softness. Go For It. Ride ‘Em Dumbo. Maybe you come from a long line of Ear-Feelers and believe wholeheartedly in the tales of Ear-Feelers who knew this was an Elephant before they even got hit by a bus. Great! Just be sure that you also make an effort to know, and to respect folks who also feel his big toe, or his belly, or his kneecap. Don’t try to convince the rest of us that the Ear is the entire Elephant.
The danger lies in forgetting that while we may be separated by path and circumstance, we’re united in our commitment to humanity, morality and decency, and also in our quest for peace and spiritual enlightenment in some form.
As I was trying to come up with something tangible to refer to with regard to my kids’ moral and spiritual development, and also remind them to respect all beliefs as they embark on their own journeys to explore Dumbo while avoiding his a**hole, I recently attended an enlightening ChildLight Yoga teacher training course for my work as a kids’ Yoga instructor at Bend Yoga Charlottesville. In the training literature I found a list of ‘Yoga Principles’ that, I find, apply in a profound way to life outside of the studio as well. I modified the list minimally so that it could be easily understood by my children, and hopefully holds some meaning for them. After I finished this project, I read through it with my kids with pride and gravitas; an act that was met with eye-rolling, sibling pinching, and constructive criticism in the form of “This is SOOO BORRRRING”. Well, at least I had given them the church-going experience.
Undeterred, as all parents must be when trying to make a point, I promptly displayed it on our kitchen bulletin board, where my kids routinely ignore it and act horrified when I ask them if they want to discuss any part of it. However, my hope is that having this doctrine on hand and in our consciousness will help guide our intentions when we need it, and remind us to treat every person (including ourselves) with dignity, and as part of our global community; even – no, especially – people who are much different than we are. I hope that you find it useful as well, whether or not you are committed to one specific part of the Elephant:
Yoga (and Life!) Principles for Kids and Grownups (**see Credit Below)
*Be Honest: Be truthful in what you say and what you do. Tell the truth, and be yourself (be true to you).
*Be Respectful of Others: Remember to say “please” and “thank you”, make eye contact and apologize when you need to. We do these things not just to be courteous, but also to show other people that they matter and that they are worthy of respect.
*Be Humble: Understand that the needs and feelings of others are as important as your own, even though it might not feel that way. Humility also means accepting opportunity for growth and change.
*Be Generous: Be quick to share, and don’t take what isn’t yours (including things, ideas or time and attention – don’t interrupt).
*Practice Peace: Be gentle and peaceful in what you do and think. Be respectful and show kindness and love. Do not harm anyone or anything. Be tolerant.
*Practice Moderation: This has to do with self-control. Avoid doing or having or using too much of anything, from TV to sweets to toys to the Earth’s resources.
*Be Clean: Take care of your body and your mind, and also your community and your Earth. Keep yourself clean from the inside out by eating healthy foods, exercising, bathing and brushing your teeth. Care for your part of the Earth and be responsible with what you do and say. (Be respectful by remembering your manners and not using offensive language.)
*Be Content: Try to see the positive in everything and be grateful, so that you can be peaceful inside. Remember to be happy for others and avoid being negative toward yourself or other people.
*Work Hard: Always try your best, and finish what you start. Don’t give up!
*Have Alone Time: Spend time with yourself in a quiet place without electronics or other distractions. Know yourself so that you don’t worry too much about what others think/have/do.
*Believe In Something Bigger: Remember that you are connected with all things. You are a part of our family, our community, our Earth and the Universe. We all share the same light. Treat EVERY person with the Namaste principle, which means: “The light and love in my heart honors the light and love in your heart.”
**Credit: ChildLight Yoga and Yoga 4 Classrooms Founder, Lisa Flynn. Concepts expanded in Flynn’s new book, Yoga for Children: 200+ Yoga Poses, Breathing Exercises and Meditations for Healthier, Happier, More Resilient Children (Adams Media, an F+W Media Co.)