I was at a solstice gathering where a woman overheard someone asking me about a workshop I had done at a Waldorf school on technology and children. She assumed I had gone in to get the school “up to speed in the 21st century, since we are no longer living in Germany in the 1920’s;” where and when Waldorf had come into existence. And so, even though the workshop focus had been quite the opposite, I decided to listen instead of “setting her straight.”
It seems she loved the Waldorf school for her oldest, but that when it came for her next child, she felt he could not possibly live with the technology “limits” the school recommended. She spoke strongly about the necessity of the school getting with the times. Then, an interesting thing happened; the more she spoke, the more her position changed. She acquiesced that, of course, she recognized the way that it had taken over her own life. She lamented the fact that it made her sad and uneasy to see the way the kids were constantly hunched over their devices. She openly worried about what was happening to the children. And well, yes, maybe there was something to be gained from the Waldorf approach to limiting technology in childhood.
Something significant struck me that day and it can be summed up in two words; cognitive dissonance. In Psychology, the Theory of Cognitive Dissonance holds that human beings seek consistency between reality and their expectations, ideas and beliefs. If we do not experience an internal harmony in this regard, we will do something to reduce the discomfort that this discrepancy causes. One way we reduce the dissonance is to ignore or deny a reality that does not mesh with our beliefs. And there it is. This is why so many of us can see the truth of how the technologies are undermining childhood and at the same time, suppress that knowing. We have come to believe so strongly, for so many reasons, that the technologies are such a necessity or a vast improvement in their lives, that we are choosing to deny what stands before us. This is how we can see disturbing trends unfolding before us without trying to change anything. We have found a way to promote distraction, disconnection and disengagement as a way of life for our children, and except for an occasional worry or freak out, have found a way to deny what is happening without losing too much sleep over it.
In yoga there is a Sanskrit word called chalana, which means to churn. It is understood that we can be churned by the world and those around us and that we ourselves can engage in practices that intentionally churn us. Through the churning we are melted down and then come back together to a place of greater perspective. An external churning would be the undeniable reality that your 12 year old has cleared your bank account of thousands of dollars to pay for video game charms. It would be very difficult to ignore that reality no matter what your beliefs. An internal churning would be allowing yourself to pay attention to the uneasy feelings that arise regarding your child and the time they spend in front of a screen. One way or another, we will all churn over what is happening to our kids. Could we not consciously, for their sake, commit to feeling what we are feeling, even when that requires us to challenge and change the beliefs and ideas that we as a culture hold near and dear? Could we not acknowledge the dissonance and be willing to change, just a little, as our gift to them?
Winter is the time of quiet. It is the silence following a blizzard. It is the time to go in and in and in. It is the time for slowing down and conserving energies. It is at this time that the seeds of the following seasons are planted. And it is in the darkness that they wait.
Many of us are afraid of the dark. Fairy tales and myths abound with monsters, demons and enemies that live in the dark places, waiting to spring out and get us. Wombs are dark. As are caves. The very bottom of the ocean is darker than the darkest night. These places are beyond the light of ordinary living and sight. And while this may set us on edge, if we deny or ignore the dark places, we refuse great potential and fertility.
Many traditions have a deeply reverent and appreciative relationship with the dark. A shaman is “one who sees in the dark.” The Hindu goddess Kali, the black, fierce and frightening one, is most beloved by her devotees who know her to be a loving and devoted mother. The dark goddess in Yoga is the one who clears the path for the light-filled goddess to bestow her blessings
It is not easy to be in the dark. It is not easy to be still. We are so frightened of what we might find “in there.” And yet, if we miss this part of life, we miss out on one half of our experience. For how can we know the light without the dark? It is in the dark that we are able to hear our small, still voice. It is in the dark that we learn to become attentive to ourselves and what is true. Being brave and patient enough to go there is akin to getting close to a wild animal. Close enough to pick up an owl stuck in a screened-in porch. Close enough to see a fawn trembling. There is magic in the dark places. We need this. Desperately.
This winter, make it a habit to just sit down. Do nothing else. Not even meditating, journaling or reading. Just sit and let yourself be. Do not look for anything. Do not try and figure anything out. Just sit. You will be amazed at what reveals itself to you.
I ran a road race this past Sunday called the Hot Chocolate Run. As I crossed the finish line, I burst into tears. This surprised me. Some of the feelings I could pinpoint. Some, remain a mystery to me. What I knew was how happy I felt to be part of this crazy mob of people in all their outfits, shapes, sizes and varying degrees of fitness. And I also knew how blessed I felt to be able to run at all.
I have not always felt this way at the end of a race. I have been a runner since I was a freshman in high school and for many years I used coercion, competition and shame to motivate myself. A number of years ago, I was out struggling through a run when suddenly my body went rogue and just stopped. I burst into tears. The unthinkable had happened; I had stopped forcing my body. I had stopped telling my body what to do. Relief flooded me. The reign of terror was over.
For the next several years, I walked. Over time, and only with my body’s permission, I started to run again, but only downhill, and in the woods, never in a straight line, and never uphill. I ran at a pace and for distances that the earlier me would have ridiculed. But I stuck with it because it felt good. That was my only agenda; what felt good to my body. Throughout my “comeback” I had only two prayers: “Help me to move in a way that honors my body and allows me to be strong in who I am in the world” and “I want to be able to run with my people.” It took years of listening to my body to discover just what it meant to be me in the world and just who “my people” were. The race on Sunday was a personal and palpable milestone for the power of moving my body in ways that allowed me to shed old patterns and open to something greater within.
Our body’s musculature carries imprints of every way we have ever held ourselves, recoiled in fear, contracted out of shame, or tightened out of hurt. It carries the shapes of the thoughts and feelings we have about ourselves and our place in the world. All the ways we feel as though we need to hold ourselves in order to be good, OK, successful, safe, loved and more are revealed in the shape, tone and condition of our muscles. If you want to know the truth about yourself, ask your muscles.
My oldest is 19. When she left for Germany back in the fall, she joined Facebook for the very first time. It has allowed her to keep up with friends back home and even create new friends in a foreign country through au pair meet up groups. This is a great example of the technology serving, helping us to maintain and create connection in our relationships. But when the tragedy in Paris struck, the way the medium disconnects us from ourselves, one another and life, becomes all too obvious.
The rallying cry on Facebook among her “friends” was to demonstrate solidarity for Paris by changing the picture on their profiles to the French flag. For a precise and very short amount of time, comments abounded on the tragedy, then quickly faded away and went back to business as usual, pictures and all. “Pointless” and “overwhelmingly shallow” were my daughters words to me regarding the Facebook approach to dealing with tragedy, loss and terror. As someone who grew up with ample opportunity to be well established in her own emotions while experiencing the power of true intimacy, she understands that difficult times are best dealt with in ways that allow for depth of feeling, permission for a range of emotions to be expressed, as well as the time needed to struggle towards meaning. True intimacy, and its power to transform and heal through the unbearable, does not arise where quick and catchy posts squeezed in between the moments of our lives drive the exchange.
When we allow social media to take the lead in teaching our children about real life connections, we give our children empty and harmful approaches to dealing with overwhelming events and information. One of the things our children need most is the ability to stand in the face of the overwhelming and make sense of it. No amount of time spent on social media will get them there. Ever. As a matter of fact, without a solid foundation beneath them, access to social media generates anxiety, hopelessness, and a lack of agency in themselves.
Our children must be allowed a childhood where they have the space and the appropriate modelling for what it truly means to be connected socially. They must be given years and years to develop the emotional intelligence, along with the resilience it brings, to live satisfying lives. Couldn’t we give them the time they need to become established in their social and emotional natures before turning them over to the machines? Couldn’t we agree that it is well worth any “sacrifice” on our parts to give them this time? Couldn’t we stop offering up pointless and shallow ways of teaching them to connect? We could.