True North Part II


Last week (see True North Part I) we began to explore the idea of creating an orientation that would help us navigate the demands of making choices around the technologies and our children. In our first conversation, we explored the absolute necessity of our presence. As the adults, we are faced with a serious and sacred charge; that of protecting and ushering our children through this world. Without the ability to be present in our own lives and in the lives of our children, we run the risk of allowing them to be exposed to what may not be in their best interest, simply because we were not “there.” This week, we look at how identifying and living our values serves as a companion to our practice of learning to be present.

Living our values is an ongoing, lifelong inquiry. To be part of that flow requires that we be present. Without our presence we cannot know whether or not we are actually living our values. There can be a world of distance between our stated values and our lived values; between wanting something and choosing something. Values do not live in a vacuum. They must be lived daily; in easy, uncertain and difficult times alike. They must come straight from our hearts and from the clearest places of our minds and right into the living of our lives. And when we find ourselves out of alignment, we must be willing to change course. Without this level of integrity, we will expend too much energy trying to address the daily technology challenges of “if”, “when”, “where” and “how much” for our kids. For too many of us, this is exactly why we say yes when we want to say no; it is just too much effort.

So, practically speaking, how would we begin? First and foremost: What are your family values? If you have not thought about this before, spend some time writing out what you believe is in the best interest of your children and what matters most to you about family life. When in doubt, give it the real life litmus test by asking yourself how and where you spend your time, money and energy. No matter what we might tell our children what our values are, our actions speak louder than our words. Our actions form the fabric of our family life and are what our children listen most closely to.

A wonderful exercise to align with a lifelong inquiry around your values is to develop a question that you can hold. Let your question serve as a way shower, a contemplation, something you can hold beyond right and wrong. Here are a couple of examples around technology and kids: “If I had all the courage, strength and support that I needed to live my family values around how my children use technology, I would or would not…” and “If I was not worried about fitting in or about dealing with an upset child, would I make different choice here around my child’s technology use?” Let this be an unfolding conversation you have with yourself. One that helps you to get clearer and clearer on what matters most to you.

True North Part I

It is no secret that we are in uncharted waters when it comes to the technologies and the imprint they are leaving on young bodies and young minds. It is turning up everywhere. Our children are being exposed at ever younger ages and with increasing frequency. Shouldn’t there be some kind of vetting system for parents? Something that will help us make our way without feeling as though we either have to make this a full time job to figure it all out, or are left needing to turn a blind eye due to the overwhelm of it all.

We need a True North. An orientation. Something that we can refer to in the midst of the sea of changes the technology is bringing. It is impossible to do this on the fly; there are too many choices, pressures, and ever increasing speed around all of this. Where can we stand in the midst of a constantly shifting terrain and still remain clear and firm in what makes sense for our families? What is it that will endure through all of this; lighting our way so that we can make sound decisions on something that is so thoroughly impacting the lives of our children?

It can be summed up as follows: Your presence, the ability to live your values, and the real developmental needs of your children. In this first part, we begin with you and your ability to be present. This can be the most challenging. There are so many demands and distractions. And yet, without your presence, you will not know whether or not you are living up to your values. And you will not know who your child is, or what she needs. Learning to be present requires that you slow down and notice. It asks that you make room for the more subtle interior flows of a child’s unfolding world and of your family’s inner life. In a world big on what is grandiose, overt and dramatic, it can feel as though you are being asked to attune to the mundane, the boring, the insignificant. This could not be further from the truth.

How does one go about learning to be present? In a word, mindfulness. Straight out of the Buddhist traditions and right into the pressing needs of life in the modern world, this ancient practice is all about learning to be present moment to moment without judgment. There is learning involved here. This will take time and practice. And there is the prerequisite of letting go of judging what it is that you notice. To judge is to believe you already have the answer, that you already know all there is to know about something. Judgment keeps us from seeing things as they actually are. And without an open and curious assessment regarding who and what stands before us, we will miss the mark every time in our decisions and in our choices.

Mindfulness opens us up to seeing when we are present to our children and when we are not. The practice helps us discover what it is that keeps us from being where we are, and this may be the most important thing to discover; what it is that keeps you from noticing your life, your child, and how you are living. In that noticing resides the potential for change and for realignment with what matters most. And so, it might look like this: You begin to notice that there are times when you do not feel good about what your child is doing in front of a screen. In the early moments, there is no need to do anything other than to notice what it feels like to be ill at ease in this moment. Maybe there is tension in your body. Maybe you notice the beginnings of an argument about to erupt. Perhaps there is an association that keeps playing through your mind.  Maybe there is something about your child’s behavior that leaves you feeling uneasy. Keep noticing whatever is there. Keep suspending judgment. Be willing to wait. Be willing to be surprised by what reveals itself to you. And then act on that revelation.


This is the first of a three-part series.


Prioritizing Abundance

Raspberries, peaches, apples, tomatoes and more. All bursting and all coming at once. It is a magnificent sight to behold. At least it is on this day when I have the space and the time to give myself over to it. Lingering among raspberries, bees and hummingbirds, I pick up the same musky scent that has sent my dog off in hot pursuit of something. A bear? I would be honored.

I cannot help but realize that when we carve out space for the activities and ways of being that most support our basic human needs, we flow with abundance in body, mind and spirit. Why is it that things like doing what it takes to eat well, getting the rest we need, or carving time out for what most feeds us are seen as dreaded have to’s, indulgences or something that we have collectively agreed to ignore? We do this at our own peril. For within the “mundane” daily activities resides what is most important; that which structures, holds and lifts up our lives. Why do we so often act as if there are more important things to get to? Why do we squander our true abundance?

“I Don’t Know”

Many of us don’t want to admit to ourselves, never mind say out loud, “I don’t know.” We want to believe, have been conditioned to believe, that to know in terms of the thinking, rational mind is above all else. We believe that if we gather enough information, stay plugged in often enough, stay abreast of the latest breaking news story that we will be OK, protected, informed. Only… Life is constantly reminding us that we can’t control the “weather” of the world. There is only so much preparation we can do for a “super storm.” Only so many bags of ice to buy. Only so many packs of batteries to squirrel away. Only so many tanks of gas to fill up.

The truth is, we don’t even know whether we will make it to tonight. And the inability to be with that level of uncertainty is why we scramble the way we do. It seems so much more predictable, orderly and guaranteed to be continually amassing information, weighing odds and controlling things through hyper-vigilance, anxiety, busyness and compulsiveness. It almost seems like if we could just outwit, out-think, out-prepare what life might churn up for us, we would be alright. And at times there is the illusion that all of our efforts in that department are working.  Right up to the very moment when it stops working. And that time will come, regardless of how we have “prepared.” Maybe the storm will hit your home in the form of illness, disease, job loss, or tragedy. Maybe your faith will be shattered or another will betray you. Maybe you will notice that there is no way to outrun death or aging.

Is this all there is then? Just letting the weather of the world have its way with us? All of the great contemplative traditions point to the practice of letting go, of saying “I don’t know” to All That Is and to all that might happen. How can we even begin to work with something so enormous? Something many of us spend most of our days trying to hide from? Try the practice of “not knowing” in your day to day. In his book, A Year of Living Consciously, Gay Hendricks recommends repeating the words “I don’t know” throughout the day and then seeing what happens. Find times throughout your day when you can sincerely use the mantra “I don’t know.” Watch for the opportunities, the magic, and the Mystery that now has a chance to unfold because you and all of your knowing is not taking up all of the space.  Because of your willingness to empty yourself of the burden of having to know what you cannot know, miracles get to happen.

P.S. Knowing everything sounds like a job description for The Almighty.