“The trick seems to be stay centered and grounded.”
Whenever I take my sons into the redwood forests in Northern California they act like cherubs. We often visit a family who live amongst the Sequoias. The kids in this family are some of the happiest, creative, and loving children I have ever met. Unfortunately, we all can’t live in a forest.
So what can us city-dwellers do to create the environment of a forest for our children? We can be the trees.
From the perspective of a child, adults are already like trees. Adults are often a towering presence in lives of a child. My worst moments in parenting happened when I reacted to a situation from an ungrounded, unaligned position—kind of like a redwood falling on my sons’ heads.
Someone once told me that the phrase “knock on wood” came from touching trees to bring good luck. The tree is connected to the earth and the heavens, so when we knock, touch, or hug trees we are invoking a higher power.
As parents, we often have to invoke a higher power when our children act out or push our buttons. My tendency in these moments was to react with anger. I used to get unrooted and throw my sons in a time out or worse. This knee-jerk reaction prevented me from acting from my higher self.
We can think of parental reactions in terms of weight distribution. My step-father’s reactions were often straight to the balls of his feet. He came flying down the stairs with a leather belt. In contrast, my mother would shift her weight to her heels. No matter how much we pleaded with her, she would cross her arms and tap her foot (you can only tap your foot if you weight is on your heels).
My Hawaiian grandfather, however, was like a redwood tree—or a Koa tree since they don’t have redwoods in Hawaii. He would stand grounded and firm. Sometimes he would hug us and other times slap us across the head, but either way we could feel that he was responding out of patience and love.
The trick seems to be to stay centered and grounded. I often do a tree meditation where I visualize my feet sinking deep into the ground like roots and my head reaching for the sky. This allows me to access my higher self. In terms of neuroscience, when we stay grounded we put a governor on our amygdala and prevent it from sending us into fight-flight-freeze mode. This allows us to access our higher intelligence in the pre-frontal cortex.
When we are aligned and grounded like a tree, we assume a position that my teacher and friend Michael Brabant calls “neutral available.” We are neither on our toes nor on our heels. We are available to assess and respond to a situation with the guidance of our higher selves.
Jenny Phillips, who directed a film called The Dharma Brothers, shared with me the wisdom of one of the inmates in her film. The Dharma Brothers is a documentary about bringing a 10 day silent meditation course into a high security prison in Alabama.
After going through the meditation course, one of the inmates said he learned to appreciate what one of his baseball coaches had told him when he was a kid. His coach told him that when he was in the outfield and a ball was hit, to first take a step back. This allowed him to assess the situation and respond by either running towards the infield or towards the fence. In essence, he was being instructed to assume the position of “neutral availability.”
This inmate said that when he was confronted with situations in prison, meditation allowed him to “take a step back” and respond in a way that served both himself and the greater good. As a parent, my life sometimes feels like a prison riot, so I can relate.
If we can take a step back into a position of “neutral availability” every time some kind of drama erupts in our lives, think about how that would affect our children. They might feel the safety and security of a redwood forest rather than the uncertainty and turbulence of an angry sea.
Photo: flickr.com–Paxson Woelber