Sparkle

When my son was born, like most parents, I was presented with the most perfect gift – a healthy, peaceful, miniature bundle of happiness that filled me with a warmth and satisfaction that I could not have hitherto imagined existed on this planet. In my son’s first few months, people would often comment to me on his beauty and his easy-going nature – quickly followed up with a comment of ‘but it will change’.

Put on notice by the general public, I waited for the fussiness and orneriness commonly associated with babies and toddlers to kick in. But, aside from the odd display of defiant willfulness, it didn’t. My son radiated happiness, contentment, and a joy in being present and in the world.

From the moment that he learned to do the royal wave at the age of nine months, within moments of meeting a stranger’s eyes he was able to captivate their attention and capture their heart. He was safe and secure in his world. In other words, he was a kid who didn’t yet know that the world isn’t going to love him.

As my son grew, his talent for commanding a room swelled. With a simple display of his irresistible smile, he would easily become the central focus, generating good will and inspiring feelings of love and generosity. Upon reflecting on this phenomenon that seemed to me nothing less than miraculous, I realized that, quite simply, my son sparkles.

When I tentatively asked my cousin if she had ever noticed how some people sparkle more than others, she told me a story about how her mother, a social worker who worked with kids that had behavioral problems, used to bring her to work with her when she was a child. One time, observing the kids that her mom was working with, she noticed that while most of the kids were obviously damaged in some way, she could never figure out what was ‘wrong’ with Anna. When she asked her mother, her mother explained that there was nothing actually wrong with Anna, it was just that she had such a life force that her family, so unimaginative and staid, couldn’t relate to her and so had sent her in to social services to be ‘fixed’.

As a parent, this story resonated with me since I find myself constantly on guard against the inner voice that occasionally tries to tame my son’s spirit, threatening to teach him that you could be great, if only you were different: less than, more of, other than whom you are. Instead of this lesson, I want my son, as he grows and develops, to incorporate the fact that he is entitled to love, just the way he is, warts and all, into the very fabric of his being.

Often, I find that my greatest challenge is to prolong the illusion that he is perfect just being who he is while creating the conditions that will clear the obstacles impeding him from becoming the person that I know he can be without dimming the light that makes him shine. And so, between the battles of what to eat, how much to eat, when he has to go to bed, and what activities and behavior are acceptable, I am constantly reminded that my greatest role as a parent is not to dictate and micromanage, but to stand back and create the conditions that will allow my son to evolve into the person that he is meant to be without diminishing the light that attracts the world to him.

Happiness

For years, I was involved in a bad relationship. It’s not that the man I was involved with was a bad person or ill intentioned. In fact, he had a lot of great qualities. Nevertheless, being with him felt off, a slight but constant irritant that eventually became an abrasion as if sandpaper were rubbing against my soul.

Once we parted ways, I realized that not only had I become the worst version of myself, but I had started to protect myself against his fear and negativity by putting up walls that eventually turned into fortresses against which nothing could permeate. For a long time, nothing touched me – not pain, not pleasure. It was as if I existed in an emotional wasteland where reactions beyond a narrow range were frozen in ice – I could see the emotions in others, and even identify them by name but could no longer feel them myself.

As I emerged from my turtle’s shell, it was as if I were watching the icy barrier around the world slowly thaw and the innate beauty of my surroundings come back to life as they shimmered with vibrant colors, textures, and emotions. And while I often found myself tearful or veclempt for no obvious reason other than something mundane touching my heart or a feeling of general gratitude overwhelming me, one day I woke up to the sure knowledge that I was happy. The world was once again a sparkling and welcoming place in which I could dance.

Reflecting on the notion of happiness, I realized that happiness is not about always having a smile on your face, being positive, or even laughing with joy. Instead, happiness is a more encompassing state defined by being fully present in each moment, open and vulnerable to whatever arises without judgment, withdrawal or self-condemnation. Ultimately, happiness is the acceptance of what is and the freedom to feel any and all emotion that arises while holding the intention to feel good high in your heart. For it is in the fullest experience of emotions coupled with complete acceptance of what is that the richness of the universe presents itself, the miracle of life can be felt, and you can take the next step on your journey with grace and ease.

As a parent, what I hope to pass on to my son is the knowledge that while no one can make him happy, surrounding himself on an ongoing basis with those who have a negative perspective or who operate from a place of fear can whitewash the color from his life and lower his own vibrations. By nurturing the seeds from which happiness can thrive I hope to help him develop a nature that is positive in orientation and open to the richness and complexity that a full life provides so that when encountering adversity or negativity, instead of buckling inwards, he can hold true to his innate self, retain his vulnerability, and remember to surrender to and rely on his own happy nature.

Freedom from labels

Sitting on my patio, drinking a glass of wine while listening to the rain fall like soft silver bullets of mercury against my protective nylon shell, I smell the scent of freshness and imagine that I can hear the greenery of my grass, flowers and fresh herbs pushing against the solid earth, trying to become the form that they are destined to be. And then I think of how humans, unlike other non-sentient beings, are mutable and unpredictable in countless ways.

As my mind drifts through time, through my past, present and future, my body reminds me that I have not done yoga in a week and I notice that not only my body but my mind misses the calming experience of engaging in a multitude of poses and postures that mimic the range of human complexity and emotions.

As I delve into this thought, I reflect on some of the various yogic poses. From child’s pose requiring a relaxed vulnerability and utter trust in the world not to harm, to warrior pose that requires a strength, alertness and all-consuming intention from which no one can take you unawares, through powerful pose which, if done right, allows you to be a pillar of strength from which others can draw support if needed, to eagle pose that creates a sense of freedom from gravity, as if one could soar forever above the clouds, defying the conventional laws of gravity with wonderment, and goddess pose in which you salute the simple beauty of life and the universe acknowledges and salutes your strength and inner beauty back, in an unspoken dialogue, to side plank that requires you to be rigid enough to  build on your strengths in order to achieve an unthinkable balance between a shimmering lightness and earth’s grounding pull, and happy baby pose in which there is overwhelming relief in just letting go and being in the moment without thought of before and after, simply releasing into the pleasure of the here and now. The ability to experience such emotional and physical intricacy within the simple time span of an hour seems remarkable.

As I think about my son, I realize that it is only remarkable for me, an adult who has internalized many of the oftentimes conflicting labels assigned by society and those who love me. My son, who is exploring the world, his place in it, his abilities, talents, interests, and everything that is new, wonderful, and undiscovered in the world, is free and accustomed to being who he is, whoever that may be in any given moment, while trying on and exercising different parts of himself.

It hits me then that the thing that marks me as different from my son is that he has not yet realized that labels pigeonholing and limiting him can be assigned and unwittingly integrated into his perception of self, narrowing who he can envision himself as and circumscribing the world in which he operates. And I suddenly realize that, as a parent, one of the biggest gifts I can give my son is the ever-present awareness that the most remarkable aspect of being human is the ability to choose: that who we are at any given moment is not defining and that we always have the ability to use what we know of ourselves, our strengths, weaknesses, vulnerabilities, desires, and talents, to become the god or goddess of life that we know lies at our core.

The danger of being a shadow of yourself

When I split up with my husband and entered the dating scene, a friend told me that it was a minefield – if I didn’t watch where I stepped, I could get blown up. As predicted, I soon entered a rebound relationship: it quickly heated up with promise of the future and crashed and burned soon thereafter.

In dissecting the spiral of events, one thing became crystal clear. The man I had been dating was terrified of being alone, to the extent that the four days between our commute were too much for him to handle.

As I thought about it, a memory of my aunt came to mind. Years ago, she recounted to me about how she once asked her pre-school aged daughter who her best friend was. When her daughter answered ‘me’, my aunt said that she knew that she had done her job. As depicted by a note my cousin left her years later that currently hangs in a frame on her corridor wall, stating ‘Mom, I went outside to play with myself’, her daughter was perfectly happy having a party of one.

As a parent, this entire dating episode taught me a valuable lesson. In order for my son to have fulfilling and enriching relationships, he needs to have one with himself: if he doesn’t find himself good company, no one else will either. And, he will always make the coward’s decision of grasping on to the person closest to him to act as buffer against himself and a reflective mirror from which he can draw an image.

In noting this, I think of Dr. Seuss’ book Oh the Places You’ll Go. I remember the passage that talks about the different places you’ll go in life – some joyful, some exciting, some just waiting, some unpleasant, and some unhappy, but all part of the journey of life that leads to learning, self-discovery, and the magical unfolding of life’s surprise twists and turns.

With this thought, I realize that I need to teach my son to not only believe in himself but to enjoy the time he spends with himself and his own self-discovery as a complete relationship. This means helping him to develop the courage to face the unpleasant in himself head on and stay with himself through the painful and lonely times while being able to give of himself and remain true to his inner worth.

By imbuing him with a trust that the future will take care of itself and a firm belief that he doesn’t have to settle for less than he deserves or make choices from a place of fear, I have confidence that he will be able to stand tall, do the right, not necessarily the easiest thing, in most situations, develop himself and all his talents, push himself to be his own best version, and, ultimately, lie outside the danger zone of becoming a shadow of himself.

Humor

I come from a family of talkers. As a close friend of mine often reminds me, it’s no wonder that my son is so verbal – he has to be in order to get a word in edgewise. We talk about what we’re doing, what we’ve done, what’s happening in the world at large, our dreams and secret fantasies. For us, it’s our primary means of connection.

As a kid, we did the usual things a family does – picnics, camping, exploring the city, playing at home, and taking road trips into the unknown. Although these events blur into one another in my memories, creating a canvass of a seemingly ordinary life, what stands out in my mind are the running jokes we used to create.

From the silent Mr. Strange who was our ever-present and unpredictable companion on our long road trips across the country to the delightfully erratic and fickle characters my father would introduce into our bedtime stories, humor was the currency that united us. And so, now, although we don’t always see eye to eye on all matters, sometimes disagreeing on the way in which we want to live while having to renegotiate the boundaries and roles that we will play in each others lives, I know that no matter how serious the atmosphere gets or how hurt someone feels, a perfectly aimed humorous comment can remind us all of the deeper connections that we share, reuniting us into the loving entity that we are.

For myself, I’ve also found that this ability to notice the lighter side in life has helped me to see the humor in the direst of circumstance, even if hidden under a dark and dreary rock, ultimately enabling me to cope with situations that initially make me feel like curling up in bed and covering myself up with blankets until the year is done. And, it’s these stories, carefully woven of joy and pain, that have created the landscape of my existence, allowing me to see blessings that are initially disguised, fostering forgiveness for perceived transgressions, and helping me to create closer bonds with those I love.

As a parent, I take my cue from my father who, accompanying me on an early expedition in my parenting career in which my six week old son developed an acute case of road rage anytime the car fell below twenty kilometers an hour causing me to near a level of nuclear exasperation, decided to write a verbal letter of complaint to the mayor from the future pint size citizen sitting in the back seat about the decidedly unnecessary extensive roadway construction. As he infused the monologue with humor, my mood lifted and I was once again able to view my son’s unhappiness with compassion and tenderness for the pain he was feeling but incapable of articulating.

And so, as our days drift by in a haze of similarity, I try not to engage in battles over the little things, using humor to get my son and I to the end point that I think we need. And, in the telling of ridiculous stories that I make up to get my son to see the reason in my requests and the in-jokes that I try to make, my hope is that as he grows up, not only will he be able to see the humor in most situations while dealing, gracefully or not, with the obstacles he encounters, but that humor will become an intrinsic component of his internal topography, weaving a magical spell that he can speak at will, lightening his load while enriching his daily experiences.