Joyfully Surrendering to the Mess

Thanks Leigh for offering up Adi Da’s profound insight below in response to my post on the difficulties of adjusting to a family of four.  Yes: there are times to let go of all programs, “solutions,” life rafts, methodologies, philosophies and “answers.” Beneath the ceaseless attempts at “right action,” I can witness and participate in life’s unfolding with a loosening of my grip on any agenda towards particular outcomes. A striving towards and desire for ‘gentleness’ or familial harmony may serve life in some way, but it ultimately doesn’t reflect the raw truth of life’s underlying messiness. And, striving for and desiring anything other than what IS is exhausting, and counter to a deeper calling to simply love what is arising wholeheartedly in every moment.

It is like frying oneself in a frying pan: the quest for ‘perfection,’ the attempts at avoiding messes and mistakes, the labeling of love as one thing and not another. “AH! OUCH! WAIT, THIS SUCKS!” is the mantra that surfaces. What entraps many of us in suffering is a belief that there is a more ‘perfect’ way to be. Until: the reminder that what serves life at the deepest core is love, and who am I to judge what that ultimately looks like? The mystery of a life’s unfolding is far beyond the unraveling of a given ‘difficult’ day in my household. There are lifetimes of karma being wound and unwound…There are eons of contractions and expansions to be lived. Just like the cosmos pulsing its ebbs and flows, we too dance this dance of contraction and release. And what can we do in the midst? Surrender to processes greater than ourselves.  Let go into the pulsing movement of life, and surrender with a joyful disposition – just like the dive into the mud…


“You are disturbed, you are uptight, you are not surrendered bodily, and you are working on internal programs for ultimate surrender. The truth is that you are simply afraid, not surrendered. Those programs are what you do when you do not surrender emotionally, when you cannot see that you are simply contracting and cannot release the contraction and allow whatever is happening to happen. You must trust the process of your own life, whether it is to go mad, to become ill, to work, to succeed, or to die. Be free of fear…Trust the Divine altogether. Give yourself up emotionally to God. Practice complete devotion and absolute surrender. Do not just tread the path of gradual attainment in your emotional and ceremonial approaches to God. Give yourself up completely in this moment. Give up everything at every depth and in every area of your life. Allow life to be the theatre of God, in which what seems to be appropriate and necessary in your case will be accomplished spontaneously. Allow all of life to be God’s business. Whatever arises, high or low, such a life will be simply surrendering to the point of happiness, giving up to God completely…You need not know anything. You need not become convinced of anything except that you are suffering a contracted state of existence. Feel the force of that contraction, its emotional force, its physical force. Feel the quality of contraction and realize it is your own action. Realize you can exist in a totally different condition merely by recognizing your own separative activity and transcending it in each moment. Just surrender emotionally and completely.” 

– Adi Da

Conscious Discipline and Planting a Compass of Love…

I wrote a few months ago on Discipline as an Act of Love and continue to muse about loving ways to share life lessons with a two-year old (and beyond). I came back to Adi Da’s book on conscious parenting, Look at the Sunlight on the Water, and wanted to share excerpts from some of his teachings.

  • Conscious discipline has to be grounded in a meaningful practice. There has to be a consistent ground to which we can return, and from which we can draw, in moments when redirection is required. A deep breath, a reconnection with intention, a slowing down of words as I speak…This is when I feel most content with moments of discipline and redirection.
  • Discipline can be an expression of bodily happiness instead of the more typical expressions of annoyance, frustration, anger, impatience. Instead of creating the conditions for shame and guilt and a sense of pervasive ‘wrongness,’ we can attract our children to behave with love and kindness as the root when we embody it ourselves (even when we are horrified that our child just pulled another child’s hair out!)
  • We don’t have to bind energy and attention around a behavior as a ‘problem.’ Instead, it just is as it is – and we can focus more on how this moment of redirection is an opportunity for growth.
  • Discipline can be a “bodily demonstration of forceful love.” This takes practice. How can we be swift, direct, clear and firm, while also embodying the vast force of love? Instead of anger rooted in resistance, how can we embody patience rooted in acceptance, while also being firm and direct enough to be heard?
  • We can make a positive calling for higher wisdom and maturity. Rather than moralizing or a ‘verbal attack,’ how can we make our moments of discipline an expression of a loving demand for greater presence? Without suggesting our children should be ‘more’ or different – how can we call them towards embodying kindness and patience? I ask the question because I am walking into the answer. Sometimes I find the mark. Sometimes I miss it miserably. This is part of my practice. Hold the intention and let what comes, come.
  • Our actions and our words can establish our children in a condition of equanimity.This means we also have to establish ourselves in an ongoing condition of equanimity.
  • Express a profound commitment to staying in relationship. Rather than push away or isolate, stay in relationship with one another just as you stay in relationship with what is. Talk it through. Slow down. Take time to step away together and have a teaching moment. A ‘time out’ can still be time with a parent at the side: time for reflection, talking over what happened, taking a step back to reflect on how we want to act moving forward. Before re-entering a situation there can be support, love, the re-assurance of not being alone, while also having taken time to go over what is expected in order to continue.

If the flow of our homes and relationships can be rooted in equanimity, then the ground of kindness can flourish. From equanimity grows the ability to truly serve others and feel outwards beyond oneself. For me, this is the aim of ‘discipline:’ the condition for a life of service and contentment, where one chooses what one does not because it is the status quo and not because “I told you so” – but because the thoughtful seeds of an inner and abiding compass rooted in love have been planted.



A Feeling, Breathing Relationship to Mystery

As many of you know, I recently participated in a book group exploring themes of ‘conscious parenting.’  What, you might ask, does this mean?  There are so many solutions.  So many methods.  So many paths.  So many books on the subject.  A baseline from which to start: “Children must learn to live from a spiritual point of view…They must learn how to live ecstatically in the feeling of God (Divine Reality).  Children should enjoy a feeling, breathing relationship with the Mystery.” – Adi Da

Below are several insights on my continual path of translating spiritual practice and intention into parenting a toddler. For me, conscious transcends ‘mindful,’ ‘thoughtful,’and ‘well-educated,’ into the realm of questioning how I can raise a being who is attuned to subtlety, interested in spiritual growth, not bound by the ceaseless churnings of ego – and ultimately interested in living a life of service rooted in the experience of love.

As parents we have the opportunity to help cultivate this capacity for a direct feeling-intuition of the Divine Reality under all circumstances.  Whether you believe in a “God” or not, this is not the point.  The point is to raise children who will become happy, sensitive, responsible, sane and caring adults.  The point is to raise children who will not be addicted to suffering and selfishness, instead attracted to embody qualities of integrity and Grace.

The nuggets below were inspired by Adi Da’s books and serve as small portals for me in making daily parenting decisions.

  • Develop a Feeling Sensitivity.  How can I encourage Rowan to feel, full bodily, into his experience?  How can I encourage him to use all of his senses?  How can I bring him into a profound, felt relationship with his surroundings in the midst of so much cultural and literal noise?  How can I encourage a feeling-based experience of reality versus a material based experience?  In nature, we can use all of our senses.  We can touch, smell, listen.  We can talk about emotional states and the subtle nuances of rain, air, clouds, colors, distant sounds.  At 3am when he is awake and doesn’t want to sleep, we can sit quietly on the porch and register together the different texture of night compared to day.  We can say hello to the birds.
  • Develop A Sense of Self that is Greater than the Physical.  How can I help Rowan become responsible for his energy state or emotional state?  How can I teach him self-awareness and also attunement to others?  He is naturally sensitive to a baby’s cries – how can I encourage that sensitivity rather than distracting him from his discomfort?   Early on we often teach our children to look the other way, rather than sitting with them in understanding pain.  When we notice sensitivity, we can create teaching moments.  We can become more sensitive ourselves.
  • Foster Human Intimacy, Intimacy With Nature and Intimacy with Mystery.  Let these priorities serve as ballasts.  Prioritize relating to people and the natural world more so than relating to objects (toys).  Stay in relationship, always.  When reactivity or anxiety emerges, check in on the intimacy thread.  Make meaningful eye contact over and over again…Widen experience to include other species, and eventually a greater mystery of Life.  How can reverence and a sense of the Sacred imbue everything?
  • Learn to Relax Deeply.  We live in a world where nervous systems are taxed and the stressfully vital is revered as ‘normal.’  How can I teach Rowan to self-regulate amidst constant invitations to spin out into a type of cultural mania?  We can take deep breaths together.  We can slow down.  We can slow down again.
  • Feel Your Body!  We start the day saying hello to the body from head to toes.  I massage him.  When he is frantic, I remind him of his feet and belly.  When he is upset, I remind him to breathe.

We can begin by establishing and maintaining a sense of calmness, equanimity and sensitivity.  And, most importantly, we must continually ask ourselves whether we are embodying the lessons we wish to impart.  What does our state convey (more than our words)?  What parents can transcend creates space for children too to transcend.

Balance of the Truest Sort

I opened to this page in my journal today, just after writing a card to my mother in law:  “Tiredness is not an excuse.  How can I be balanced when not sleeping?  Exhausted?  Find out.  Let the bottom fall out.  Balance of the truest sort transcends fatigue.  True balance exists regardless of external circumstances.”  I’d written those words for myself a few months ago and here I am again needing the reminder about the importance of finding balance not dependent on external circumstances.  Ironically, the card I’d just finished writing in said this:  Peace:  It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work.  It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart. 

All of this a lesson I deeply need today.  On holiday after a grueling series of flights on a day when Rowan refused to nap, I have been downing vitamin C like a drug addict and coughing up a lung – feeling like the proverbial dog on a leash that can’t set herself free.  In spite of a self-identified practice of not pining after anything other than what just IS, I find myself groping along after the usual ‘quiet, sleep, rest, time for self, exercise, a hair cut…’ – the familiar ongoing litany of wants and needs churning below the surface as I chase Rowan at his grandmother’s house, trying to maintain some semblance of control amidst the cookies and cacophony of motorized toys.  I struggle with wanting so many things other than how they are.  A short sampling of a long list:  Why won’t Rowan eat vegetables today?  Why does he like tractors more than trees?  Why doesn’t he respond when I call his name?  Why does he have to smack me when I am hugging him?  Why does he still not sleep through the night when he is almost two? Why does it have to be so hard? (you get the picture).  What a humorous trap I can be lured into – the patterning that pines after something else.  Never has it been more apparent than now as I make my life’s work rooted in the care of Rowan.

At a certain point is becomes clearer and clearer to me that I am working too hard to control situations that are ultimately beyond my control.  I’m trying too hard to shape results in the direction of my preferences.  Most importantly, I’m efforting so much that it eclipses the quiet, abiding resting in any given moment that is always available to me:  that peace not dependent on external circumstances, the balance that transcends fatigue. (The revelation hits me as I loose a chunk of my hair prying it from the hook above the car door while wrestling with the car seat buckle, muttering profanities at the absurdity of the moment).

To leave behind the over-efforting in favor of a quiet abiding doesn’t mean that I don’t still maintain a strong center of gravity that directs and guides my toddler regarding right action.  It also doesn’t mean that I become lazy or laissez-faire.  It means that I hold my seat from a place of relaxation.  It means that rather than breaking connection and intimacy with my son because of vast frustration stemming from endless churning efforts  and attachment to the storyline of exhaustion and a restless sort of ‘staying in control,’ I instead do absolutely nothing. 

What on earth does that mean, you might be asking?  NOTHING?  How on earth can you parent and do nothing?  By resting in the arising of each moment, abiding in Reality as it simply is – with no seeking, grasping, pining, yearning;  With no adding of anything on top of pure and simple existence.  Moving from this place there is no need for mental anxiety, for worry, for angst, for questioning this and that…or for shouting profanities when your hair gets tangled in the car hook.  There is simple response to any given moment with peace and balance.  Peace and Balance.  Nothing more, nothing less.

Adi Da says it well:  “Every motive is seeking.  Every turning away is avoidance.  Every turning towards is avoidance.  All these things are seeking, for they are not abiding now in the Form of Reality.  Thus, to turn at all is to act.  And every turning will awaken the reaction of turning the opposite way in time.  The Truth is radical non-avoidance moment to moment.  It is to live this moment without conflict, directly.  Where there is understanding there is no turning, and every action turns no way at all, for there is only radical consciousness behind it, turning no way, knowing only great Bliss.” 

Discipline is an Act of Love

And now:  Discipline.  And I mean it not in the way it is traditionally understood. (Don’t most of you cringe a bit at the word?  Isn’t it often associated with the uncomfortable space of trying to set boundaries, enforce limits, find a hardline?  Does anyone else have memories of teachers holding up the wooden paddle in threat?).

It feels like a huge bite to chew on, but something I have to wrestle with as my son becomes his own personality: freer and freer into his own responses and preferences.  I ask myself over and over again, how can I parent in a way that creates the conditions for equanimity, balance and service to others and one’s environment?  How to transmit and translate all my personal musings and practice into tangible parenting strategy? How to foster sensitivity rather than hyperactivity?  And even more so, how to invite children into a realm of mystery, reverence and self-transcendence?

Enter Structure.  Enter Discipline.  Enter Love.

The word discipline comes from the Latin disciplina, meaning “instruction given, teaching, learning, knowledge.” When I engage discipline in this way, I can feel into the possibility of daily disciplines pointing towards greater teachings I’d like to impart. Beyond the ‘hardline’ and the ‘boundary,’ is there not a realm of discipline that draws on the great wisdom traditions?  Calls forth our most realized understandings of relationship and love?  I keep searching for the inspiring examples while out with Rowan: the patient, present parents holding space for challenge and growth while still speaking from a place of love and respect (and I do see you!) – but am often confused when faced with the somewhat prevalent examples of yelling and shaming.

I begin to muse on how to create the ground for discipline (learning, knowledge) to flourish:  a sacred order in the midst of the ebbs and flows of modern American life, beginning with ‘quiet time’ each morning as an opportunity to model a practice space and self-regulation -inviting Rowan to join.  We also invite Rowan to join in every possible ‘work’ opportunity – giving him full participation and responsibility in the work of the household so that he will hopefully feel part of a greater flow of meaningful and purposeful work: his part in the realm of serving life through the details of food, washing, sweeping…

So first there is the discipline and order of each day, which ideally moves a child beyond only solitary play with objects and the often unbridled vital expression of energy, into a flow of order and responsibility which creates the structure for sensitivity, equanimity and service.  And then there is the discipline of responding to actions that go against the qualities of kindness and balance.  All of this is coming to a head as my son nears age 2 – and when “NO” is becoming his favorite word.

Enter spiritual realizer Adi Da’s book, Discipline is an Act of Love.  He points me towards the needed ground of discipline and structure in order to manifest the seeds of right relationship between a child and family and then community.  He speaks to the art of true discipline lying in the ability to move a child into “right adaptation to the law of life – which is to be in relationship to all beings and experiences that arise rather than in reaction to them.”  He writes, “If we want to communicate the secret (which is embodying a heart converted to Love) to children and free them from emotional dissociation, we have to communicate the mood of God-communion via our own body-minds…We also have to transcend our own reactions to what a child is doing or not doing, our feeling of anxiety or frustration… We have to bring great life energy to the child and help them to return to a loving, happy mood by releasing negative feelings and being restored to the happiness of his or her inherent connection to Mystery…”

Therefore the basic task of true discipline is to help children return to the understanding (and bodily knowledge) that “they are loved and that they are also obliged to be Love.”  When I live my days of parenting with this discipline lens, I am working to create the condition for Rowan to feel full-bodily his relationship to myself and others – and then beyond his family towards community and the natural world.  And the necessary platform from which to dive is intimacy and love.

Adi Da reminds me that the primary thing children are reacting to through so-called negative behavior is the absence of intimacy.  As a society we tend to focus on the action and not the suffering behind the action; With this lens of looking beyond the action to what the feeling behind the action is, I can step back, consider causes, and check in with my reactions before responding (at least this is what I am practicing!).  I am reminded that I must continually deal  with the primary emotion of relatedness (or Love), and foster that sensitivity, “rather than deal problematically with secondary reactive emotions.”  Let me say this again:  rather than discipline being about strict redirecting, anger or frustration fed forceful speaking of constant “NO” – discipline can be about creating the conditions for happiness and balance through constant connectivity and fostered intimacy with my child.  Every gesture of the day is an opportunity to maintain or deepen this connection; And every blip in the flow is a chance for me to assess whether the connection has been broken and to come back into relationship first before acting from a place of reactivity in moments of challenge.

“You can’t teach anything without Love, and without being happy with them,” says Adi Da.  What a simple mantra I can return to.  When offering ‘discipline’ – or a deep form of teaching on what is ultimately most important in life and conduct – am I coming from a place of love?  Am I feeling the deep threads of relationship here?  Am I taking a deep breath before flying off the coop with irritation at the thrown egg whites for the fifth time this week?

Until I embody equanimity how can I expect my child to rest in life with equanimity? Children respond to our disposition and embodiment perhaps more than our words (particularly young children).  If we want to teach anything, perhaps we must first be in love with our children (yes, in the very moment of pinnacle frustration) and feel into our own happiness – and ask ourselves if there is anything we are doing that isn’t serving our child when they are out of balance.

This perspective serves me in profound ways.  Rather than creating a separation between Rowan and myself in moments when ‘discipline’ is required – when the most meaningful teachings are demanded of me – I can soften, as is always an invitation, and respond with Love.  I can reconnect.  I can model what a true gesture of service really is:  that which calls forth the best in others even when it challenges.  I can move both of us towards a space of mutual growth – while staying in relationship with not only Rowan, but with everything that is – exactly as it is:  not reacting but instead responding to the true callings of discipline.