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Want to know how to be present?

Here’s a simple way. Go into your kitchen. Start tidying and putting things away. Now, as you do this imagine you have a baby asleep in the room and you must be very, very quiet. Notice how that changes the way you do the task. You’ll have to focus. You’ll need to put dishes down very quietly. You’ll have to see exactly where and how you place them, making the least amount of noise. You can’t throw a handful of knives and spoons into the drawer because of the unholy clatter that will result. You might have to do them one at a time. You may have to move more deliberately. It will change the way you feel about the objects and about how you handle them in your daily life. This is mindfulness. This is paying attention. As you do this you will be present to life -- if you allow yourself to be.

A Parable

Imagine a beach. John Tourist goes swimming. After a few minutes he gets into difficulties and needs rescuing. The lifeguards go out and get him, and all is well. But wait: is that fair? Doesn’t it mean that John gets free use of a public service? And don’t your taxes pay for those lifeguards? And who knows if John is even from your town? Plus he’s too dumb to know how to swim properly, so should we be helping the less advantaged? No, this whole thing is not right. People like John just milk the system. Let’s save money, fire the lifeguards and let people like John drown. Except…. If John drowns his wife and three kids will suffer hugely. No income, no one to help raise the children, plenty of grief and stress. The family may not survive. The kids may become desperate, take to crime, end up in jail. Which will cost money. Tax money. Wait; who pays for that? Remind me. It’s easy to take things away. Call them ‘entitlements’ and cut them. Slash those safety nets. But be prepared to live with the long term consequences……

Lessons from a Young Child

Walking with Zoe (aged 5) I notice that plenty of people stop to smile at her, ask her how old she is, and generally be friendly. People also tend to be kind in small but not unappreciated ways. A young chap saw me with Zoe and a big bag of groceries, and stepped forward to open a door for me. I find myself astonished at how gentle and caring total strangers can be. Reading the news, and all its ghastliness, one would never know how basically decent the world is. There’s a whole lot of love out there, just waiting for an opportunity to show itself.

Myths that harm us

Laura Ingraham of Fox news started a wildfire when she claimed that immigrants are “destroying the America we love”. Let’s take a look at this statement, and a look at Trump’s supporters. First of all, who is “we” in Ingraham’s statement? I’m an immigrant. I love America. I love its inclusiveness and ethnic diversity. I love that it’s constantly re-inventing itself. The America I love is not static and unchanging; it’s dynamic. Yet she seems to want to hark back to some sort of carved-in-stone version of America. Norman Rockwell’s view is but one nostalgia-suffused view of the great country. It is not a comprehensive view of all America. This leads us, inevitably, to an analysis of Trump and the hidden agenda of supposedly traditional values, which is, I have to admit, convincing at some levels. Let’s look at what is being conveyed, here, by the images. First: Trump presents as a family man who has successful children – something every parent wants for their children. The subtext is that he knows how to raise children who can succeed within the existing system. It’s true. He is, at the moment, the system, and he makes sure those children of his will succeed. And this desire for children to grow up and be successful is what powers so many parents to go into debt for private schools and colleges and extra curricular programs. It’s a powerful force in the US. Many parents buy into it. This has a shadow side. Parents are terrified that their children might grow up to be something they can’t be proud of, and so these fearful parents look at the poor, at the unsuccessful, at minorities, and say, “See, they don’t know how to raise kids. They’re the problem.” And a myth is born, all the more damaging because it’s not clearly articulated. The problem really, is fear. Parents are afraid their children’s lives will be blighted, somehow, by changes they cannot predict. So Trump supporters look at Liberals who raise their children in sometimes rather laisser-faire ways and they say, “Nope. That’s not right. Liberals are the problem.” It’s a viewpoint I have some sympathy with. I’ve worked with disturbed adolescents and seen some very inadequate parenting from those whom one might have expected to know better. Some “liberal” parents haven’t a clue how to raise their kids, and wind up sending entitled, out-of-control kids into a school system that’s already stretched. Some of those parents are branded as liberals when they are, in fact, nothing of the sort. At the same time, on the other end of the socio-economic scale poor families often have insufficient time or resources and their children are sometimes poorly socialized for school. But it does not follow that the parents are the problem, when poverty might be the major factor. Trump supporters are afraid their own children might be tainted by this perceived lack of discipline, and so fail to succeed. Similarly with abortion. The supporters of the restrictions on abortion and planned parenthood are, I’d suggest, not so much in favor of babies’ lives as afraid that if things are made ‘easy’ then their children will be out there having sex with everyone they feel like, getting pregnant – and they’ll be beyond any parental control. Fear again. A powerful fear. What parent of a teenager hasn’t had that fear? Who can blame them? America’s children are, at times, out of control. School shootings can attest in part to that. It all looks pretty grim. And that’s part of the reason that the Trump policy of separating immigrant families at the border has had so little push back from his own supporters, people who so often tout ‘family values’ and ‘Christian values’, people who, often, are extremely good at raising dutiful children. Those immigrant families are not people to them. Instead they present an imagined threat to the stability of their own families, and so should be punished. These poor people are, after all, said to be manipulating the situation, using their children, to get into our country. Once here their uncontrolled children will wreak mayhem in our schools, of course. Well, that’s the fear. Ordinary kids will have to learn Spanish to be in class with these immigrants - and such similar strange logic – and this is all part of the fear that somehow life will now be harder for the children of Trump supporters. If I’ve learned anything in my life it’s that the single most contentious issue for anyone to bring up is how kids ’should’ be raised. Any time you want to start an argument with anyone, just criticize the way they or their family treat their kids. Guaranteed conflict, right there. Trump has played into this hidden agenda of fear, fear for our children’s future. It’s the same fear that sends immigrants to our borders. They want a better chance for their children, too. They’re afraid, too. And they meet fear, our fear, which we project onto them. We see them as the problem. And so we have an evil myth that liberals and immigrants are ‘the problem’. It’s convenient. It’s not accurate. If you want to see what’s truly undermining our civil society then look no further than the internet, at the kids immersed in violent video games, confused and jangled by pornography. They’ll spend hours a day glued to their computers and imbibe those images, while they shrug off whatever is taught at school. And when their inner lives clash too badly with the strange outer realities there are always drugs to turn to.

If you’re reading this…

The trouble with Facebook is... I find myself not watching videos because if they're over 2 minutes they're too long (or so I tell myself). I don't read long posts as often or as carefully as I should. I click 'like' on cat pictures even though I'm not that interested in cats, but, what the heck, they're cute. If we translate this to my website, this page right here, I should presumably follow my own example. I should not even be writing this. I should just post a picture of a cute animal. Thus part of my world, my psyche, is reduced to snapshots, scenes glimpsed from a car window. Now, this is not to ignore the power of FB. The march against Separating Families (ICE) was well represented. It was important, moving to see, and validating for us all. Yet a march is a serious thing, taking time, some commitment, some effort. Watching 30 seconds of it here takes nothing at all. So, where do you want to spend your life?

New Articles

If you've been following my articles on inspiredworldmagazine.com you might like to check out inspiredparenting.com when it debuts on September 1st. Just so you know I haven't been totally inert this summer.......

Summer…

...is a time to relax enjoy the warm weather (finally). It's also a time to plan ahead. This Fall I'll be giving some workshops you may be interested in. • On September 11, 18, and 25 I'll be giving a series of talks about the Grimm Brothers' Tales - and revealing that the original versions are very different from the ones Disney fed us. What do the earlier versions tell us? Could it be that they have deeper lessons than Disney dreamed of? This will be at Fox Hill retirement community, Westwood, MA. The talks starts at 2:30. • On November 5th at St. Susanna's church, Dedham, from 7 to 9pm I'll be leading a discussion about Dante's Divine Comedy - the poem everyone's heard of but few of us have read. The emphasis will be on the psychological insights the poem provides. • On November 10 stating at 2pm I'll be in Marblehead at 80 Main Street, where I'll be running a workshop and encouraging writers of all kinds to use writing prompts and visualization techniques to liberate their creativity. More details will follow. But this way you can mark your calendars in advance. Other activities haven't been finalized yet.

Lessons: an on-going series

Tuning Out the Noise A while back we were at a neighborhood party with Zoe (5). It was a pretty noisy gathering, with all the adults jabbering away in a room with a decided echo to it. I could barely comprehend what the woman in front of me was saying, and she had the voice of a parade ground sergeant-major. As I turned to see what Zoe was up to I noticed that she was sitting on a chair talking quietly, with absolute clarity, with a small boy who was holding a stuffed toy squirrel. They seemed to be discussing different types of toys. I leaned down and discovered that they were actually speaking very softly, and yet they had no trouble hearing and being heard. How did they manage it? I asked my chatty lady if she knew, and she laughed and said something about ‘selective attention’. And that set me thinking. How is it that these children had the gift of tuning out all the noise, all the stuff that meant nothing to them? I would have expected them to be yelling too, under the circumstances, but they weren’t. Not at all. Perhaps we all need to learn how to tune out more of the ‘noise’ in our lives so we can concentrate on the real communication. Perhaps we once had that ability but we forgot about it, or ignored it. Perhaps we might want to learn how to find those quiet moments in the heart of our days. Reprinted from Inspiredworldmagazine.com

The Far right and Education

As I walked back from the Anti-ICE rally on Boston Common I came across seven young men, wearing face masks, dressed in black, being shouted at by two women who had no hesitation in pronouncing them fascists. They seemed eager to get away. Around the corner were about 50,000 peace-loving anti-fascists. So I had to ask: what makes a fascist? The answer is, as with most things, rather basic. People become what they are taught to be. Raise a child in an intolerant, negative, disempowered household and what do you get? An intolerant, destructive kid who yearns to have some tiny scrap of power. In fact, a budding far right kid. It's almost always as simple as that. We know that abused kids grow up to be abusers. We also know how hard it can be to change that mind set. And this is where the right wing gets it so wrong. More prisons and draconian laws do not make us "safe". Investing in children, with love, care, decent housing, and good education really does make for a safe society. But to do that requires social services, support for mothers, health care, social security and above all education. These are all things the present government has attacked. The current inhumane and revolting policy of separating immigrant families is simply the logical continuation of the ideology already in place within the rule-makers. Kids don't matter. Families don't matter. I say to those rule-makers, have you thought about what this will mean for your own children's world?