Raising Us was born from the realization that the parent I dreamed of being required a level of honesty and self-awareness I had to admit I had been shying away from. How do you teach your child to be their true, authentic self, to live their most beautiful life, when you yourself are hiding? I was hiding. I was pretending. And I was really good at it. This is not to say that all areas of my life didn’t reflect the truest parts of me. At work in the classroom, I was the very best version of myself. I was at ease in my own skin, open and able to see my successes, and willing to celebrate my achievements. I had the clarity to see where I went wrong, set judgement aside to reflect on how I arrived at that given place, and look for a better way to proceed. Outside of work however, the loudest voice I heard was an inner nagging of doubt and criticism. I wanted to teach my boys about self-compassion, to live their truth, be brave enough to take amazing risks and to honour the breadth of all of their emotions. But I struggled with all of the above.
When I dream about building sacred community, I dream about the kind of space that welcomes and honours each parent as they are without the weight of shame or judgement. A space where each of us can find the security and comfort needed to confront our truths, raise our self-awareness and find strength without armour together.
In my time spent at Maya Tiawri’s workshop I was overwhelmed by the number of people in the group who were willing to share, to open up the deepest parts of themselves in a room full of people they didn’t know. Their vulnerability made me uncomfortable. It provided a glimpse into the depth of my own hurt, and what it might look like to uncover it - I preferred to leave it be. Over the two days I watched in awe as Maya concentrated her energy towards each person who shared. Her heart was open to receiving them. Her willingness to connect to them in their pain and to not look away was palpable. Love sprung from her. I wrote in my earlier post that my experience with her wasn’t religious, but maybe it was. I could see a glow around her. She radiated kindness. She held no judgement. She appeared weightless, and still so grounded. She prompted all of us to connect with our pain, spoke of allowing the depth of the suffering to reveal itself, and accepting those emotions as readily as we welcome joy. She held her heart open to those who were willing to do the work. It was hard for me.
When I think about attending the small gathering to learn from Sharon Salzberg I remember feeling her voice as a hug. I was taken by her calm demeanor, the ease with which she described the practice of meditation and our ability to always begin again. It didn’t take long before people started opening up and sharing their stories. They cried and held their hearts. And Sharon held them tight with her words. She offered up self-compassion, loving-kindness and the removal of judgement. I found myself struggling to pretend all was well within, but not ready to let anything out. Even the set up in the room made me uncomfortable. Sitting in a circle, I felt exposed. Not only was I not ready to look at my own suffering, I didn’t know how to be present for others. While I left the workshop inspired by the power of meditation and the calm and presence it offered, I wasn’t yet ready to look within. I left the gathering that night with Sharon’s how-to book on meditation and began a dedicated practice guided by her weekly lessons along with whatever videos of her I could find online.
The experiences with Maya and Sharon shined a light on how I had been dealing with my struggles and pain for years. When difficulty arose, the phrases rang out in my mind…
“Pull up your boot straps, girl.”
“Carry on soldier.”
Angry? Sad? Hurting? Push it DOWN and keep going. Smiles win. While the people who shared at these gatherings made me uncomfortable, there was something about these group experiences that kept drawing me in. The sharing made me uneasy, but the energy in the room, the willingness of others to hold space, to listen with kindness - there was an honesty that came from them, an ability to turn inwards, a tender strength. I was envious. I wanted that for myself. My heart needed these spaces.
A parent of a former student who had become a friend, established a yoga festival in Blue Mountain. It would be a weekend out of the city for self-care and the opportunity to learn from new teachers. I looked forward to connecting with myself and to potentially let go of the armour that barricaded my heart. I had persuaded my sister to join me for the weekend, and I sit giggling as I write this. Yoga festivals did not top her list of dream getaways, but she agreed and I was thrilled to have her there with me. I remember choosing our courses, keeping in mind her comfort as a beginner. 3pm Breathwork. It sounded perfect. I expected a class focused on counting breath, feeling the entry points, perhaps some alternate nostril breathing. I imagined it being a wonderful entry point for my sister and a calm and easy session for me. I had a steady meditation practice going at that point and understood the power of breath.
We arrived in the space, unrolled our mats and were welcomed by the most wonderful, magnetic woman - our teacher was electric. Her smile, her energy, her warmth. I wanted to be her student from the moment I saw her. As she described the breathwork we were about to do, I just knew my sister was OUT. This breathwork session would begin with ecstatic dance, followed by deep mouth breathing towards a state of hyperventilation and incredible spiritual release. There would also be the potential for involuntary hand contractions (which the teacher demonstrated to be like clenched T-Rex claws by your side). But not to worry - that would slowly subside.
Holy %*#! This holy abandon she was describing was not my sister’s cup of tea, and certainly not the easy breezy breathing I was expecting.
I want to say that I chose to engage so as not to hurt the teacher’s feelings. I already knew one participant who wouldn’t be participating… and I’m a pleaser so I couldn’t just bail. But the truth is, something inside me said, try. It sounded wild and well beyond my level of comfort, but there was something so free about this teacher and I craved that lightness. I have a journal entry from the experience. I wrote as soon as my hands could move again and it still makes me cry reading it. There was no containing the emotional release - it flooded through me, and all I could do was allow it, feel it. The rush of emotion was fierce and intense. Fighting it was futile. I had spent years pushing difficult emotions down as far as they would go and this seemed to be their chance to escape - all of them at once. I was afraid and so sad, but also full of joy and peace. I remember lying on my mat, eyes closed, the tears streaming down my face, the neck of my t-shirt soaked and not being able to wipe my face because of my contracted, frozen hands. But our teacher was there. She was kneeling beside me, wiping my tears and stroking my hair. She spoke softly to me. I have no recollection of what she said, but her presence was everything. She provided safety. She held me in my sadness, and I was not alone.
Common humanity is at the core of Mindful Self-Compassion. Kristin Neff, the Co-Founder of The Center for Mindfulness Studies, and a leading expert on self-compassion, describes it as the understanding that we are not alone. We don’t exist in isolation and we are not unique in feeling the emotions that we experience. The element of common humanity is embodied in the stories of the gatherings, the participants and teachers I share above. Sharing space with others, hearing them express their pain, bearing witness to their vulnerability and courage in discovering a new path enabled me to find the strength to turn inwards with honesty and to stop pretending. Understanding we are not alone on this journey is essential to our comfort and healing.
While my confidence wanes in many places in my life, my inner compass is at its strongest when I am working. Being in school has always provided me with an innate sense of balance. The core values of learning from mistakes, growth through error, problem solving and collaboration, have given me the opportunity to grow not only professionally, but personally as well. I am truly as excited about being a student as I am about being a teacher. Once again, it is in the context of school that I often watched parents at their most vulnerable. In conversations about the challenges their children were experiencing, parents also revealed that they themselves struggled. Whether they identified their challenges to be the same as their children's, or they struggled in the areas required to support their children, they expressed pain. In this context, it seemed I could hold space for others. I was present in kindness and compassion. Through working with children and their parents, I learned to listen. I saw first hand what courage looks like - facing your own challenges to support your children. I also saw the opposite, when the struggle to face truth was overshadowed, and suffering continued. But we all come to realization in our own time. It was my mother who gifted me with the very best advice when I began teaching - “Don’t judge,” she said. “Every parent is trying their best.” She was right. No matter the story, in all my years in education and working with families, I have never met a parent who doesn’t care.
I am grateful for the many teachers I have learned from. They have modeled what an open heart looks like - presence, loving-kindness and compassion. They have shown me the opportunity of another way, providing hope and guidance. Their manner has influenced and informed every interaction I have with parents, ensuring that I withhold judgement and listen deeply. My commitment to my own journey of healing has come not only from their support as leaders, but from each and every participant who was a part of the collective. Each person who allowed themselves to be seen, who reminded me I am not alone, fuelled my courage to raise myself. My strength and willingness to uncover more of myself comes from each of them.
Something sacred refers to something holy or worthy of awe and respect. Bearing witness to parents who are willing to show up, open their hearts, and raise themselves as they raise their families is sacred. I look forward to announcing my first online community gathering in the next few months. Together, we will create a space of mindful presence. With calm and clarity we will approach the truth of where we find ourselves and map the journey of how we intend to grow. I hope you’ll join me.
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