On Raising Children

A week ago, I attended a weeklong training on child development. It was a convergence of doctors, teachers, students, farmers, parents, and like-minded individuals interested in learning about the different stages of childhood and adolescence according to the teachings of Rudolf Steiner and his Anthroposophic movement (Anthropo = human, Sophia = wisdom). The gathering was called IPMT, for International Postgraduate Medical Training.

Even though I was a bit hesitant to join at first, given it was technically a medical training and I have no medical background, what I found ultimately was a community of open-hearted seekers who together created a safe space for all present to learn, share, and grow. The mix of attendees – from fields of medicine, education, and other forms of healing – added to the cornucopia of wisdom, and daily exchanges enriched the minds, bodies and souls of all.

I think the best way to sum it up is to share the top lessons I’m taking away from the conference. Here they are:

  1. Children choose their parents. They come into this life with karmic histories and this life will present them with challenges they have previewed and chosen in advance that they will need to overcome to move onto their next stage of evolution.
  2. Infants are so very sensitive and intuitive. They can feel everything their parents feel. They sense when something is off. For example, when they don’t feel safe – which may be due to a quarrel between their parents – they can’t sleep. They imitate everything, so parents need to establish good habits for themselves and set good examples because children WILL follow everything you do.
  3. If possible, a natural birth (through the vaginal canal) and breastfeeding are super beneficial and irreplaceable. The life / death situation of birth is symbolic of all living processes around us, and babies will be stronger if they struggle to enter this life. Babies also want to enter this life when they are ready. Breastfeeding provides the baby with bacteria and antibodies that will help them develop a healthy microbiome, which will lead to healthy digestion and a strong immune system.
  4. The feeling of warmth in the home is so important. Only through experiences of love, hugs, and touch will children be able to feel (sometimes literally!) the boundary between themselves and another, which will later on help them develop healthy boundaries with others and the ability to confidently say yes or no.
  5. Children do not only need loving, present parents but a community of caregivers and role models, whether it be comprised of extended family, friends, or teachers. It truly takes a village to raise a child – especially a healthy, sociable, compassionate, well-developed child.
  6. Schooling is NOT necessary or beneficial for a child under the age of seven. This one is hard for me to accept as I went to school young and feel I turned out fine. But, the brain does not fully develop for academic learning, on average, until a child reaches the age of seven. What is more appropriate and engaging for a child is outdoor play and exploration. To give a child the gift of curiosity and wonder for the world is priceless and far outweighs early mastery of the ABCs. One exception is music – a child who learns an instrument and practices music from a young age will experience enhanced brain development and intelligence of many sorts.
  7. Do not interrupt a child at play. Children need to feel they are able to explore to their heart’s content. A child who experiences this kind of interruption may grow accustomed to it, to expect it, and later on may potentially develop attention challenges. If you are worried they will miss meal time, fret not: when children feel hungry, they will naturally come to you.
  8. If a child does not want to eat, do NOT force feed. The mouth is the body’s most sensitive region. Instead, entice the child’s appetite through the smell of aromatic food.
  9. Fever and other illnesses are actually a means for the child to fully incarnate and develop his or her strength and immunity. Do not suppress fever with conventional medicines. “Support” the fever – allow it to take its course while of course making sure your child is as comfortable as possible, remaining well-hydrated, rested, and cool with lemon water towels. Often fever and other illnesses are followed by a newly developed ability in the child, whether it be enhanced ability to talk or move.
  10. As a child grows into adolescence, it is crucial for the child to feel the opposing forces and energies of mother and father. The mother will especially feel challenged by this period. It may be good for the child to experience being away from home for a while, to gain some independence. Eventually, through a gap between the mother and father (not physical, but may be engendered through slightly different perspectives on how to deal with certain situations, for example), the adolescent will emerge as his or her own person.
  11. It is only at the age of 21 that a young adult’s brain is fully developed and that his or her “ego” fully descends. This is when the young adult can make decisions clearly and confidently, according to his or her own morals and values. It can be dangerous for adults under this age to be put in situations that contain a moderate element of risk and people in position of unchallenged command (e.g. the military). Young adults under this age are not yet able to make full use of their decision making capabilities.
  12. Lastly, INTENTION is everything. As a doctor, as a teacher, as a parent, if you hold good intentions toward a child, they can feel it. Even if you are unable to carry out your duties perfectly, positive intention will carry you forward. According to Steiner, “if the patient, simply through the individuality of the physician, is brought to a point where he feels the physician’s will-to-heal, the reflex action in him is that he will be filled with the will to become healthy. This interplay of the will-to-heal and the will to be healthy plays a tremendous part in the therapeutic process.”

I’m hoping any of the above can prove useful to anyone who is raising a child, thinking of raising a child, or has loved ones or friends raising children. I believe it is crucial to be aware of how our children are being raised, and the potential effects of our decisions, because, as cheesy as it sounds, children really are the ones who will carry the torch of humanity into the future.

Feeling grateful for opportunities to share, exchange, learn, and uplift one another. Here’s to future IPMTs and other learning convergences.

xo

J

Bali Bliss

I’m still digesting the nearly two weeks I spent in Bali … it’s only been three days since I’ve been back home and it already seems a world away. Keeping a deep knowing, though, that things may end, but you can keep them alive in your heart.

I went to Bali initially for a yoga retreat with a dear yoga teacher friend, T. To be honest, I didn’t expect much more than days filled with yoga, fun, laughter, sun, and relaxation. I came away with so much more. How can I begin …

The setting of Bali is so beautiful. Words can hardly describe. Right as you arrive you sigh in relief as your eyes are flooded with fields of green, your nerves calm as you absorb the peace radiating from the locals, it doesn’t take long until everything in your body starts to slow down and stabilize. You’ve entered what may feel like an alternate universe.

 Green as far as the eye can see
Green as far as the eye can see

Of course more than the setting, what makes a trip are the people you spend your time with. Very thankful for T and the group she gathered together. Everyone diverse yet similar, each at different stages of our lives yet able to connect in spirit. Bali blew our hearts open, from experiencing sound healing in pyramids, marveling at majestic age-old temples, rejoicing in nature, sharing poetry and song, moving with intention, digging deep within and laying our souls bare. Thank you Bali beauties for an unforgettable time … until our paths cross next and we again commune under a full moon whispering our dreams, desires, and fears, to make way for growth.

A snippet from my diary on my last day:

“Thank you Bali for being so sacred. Your land, vegetation, people, beings .. all living in such harmony. Thank you for your lessons and beauty. The care with which everyone lives here … smiling at each other as they greet each other, speaking and acting humbly, praying for the smallest things … everything is sacred. Our homes, our workplaces, our possessions, ourselves, our cohabitants on this earth. Thank you Bali for your peace, blessings, wonder. I am in awe. Bowing down at your feet.”

 Daily prayer
Daily prayer
 Under a magnificent tree of life
Under a magnificent tree of life
 Finding magical nooks and spaces
Finding magical nooks and spaces
 Discovering new foods together (durian)
Discovering new foods together (durian)
 Lounging, sharing, pondering
Lounging, sharing, pondering
 Sacred circle
Sacred circle
 Memories that will last forever
Memories that will last forever

 

xo

J

Humility

Over the past few years, I have tried to incorporate more mindfulness into my life. I have not always been successful at it, but lately I have been doing my best to find a few moments everyday to pause, look within and observe how I am feeling and what it is I need.

I am lucky to have all sorts of mentors and teachers in my life to guide me along my way. Among them is my favorite yoga teacher here in Manila, N. N is a Jivamukti yoga teacher at the studio I frequent. What I enjoy about her classes are that they always center around a theme, and she weaves in stories from her life to illuminate these themes. The theme of her classes this month has been Humility.

In class today, she emphasized the importance of having a beginner’s mind. The purest of minds, the most beginner of minds, is a child’s mind. A child hasn’t yet been conditioned or molded by years of being in the big, cruel world. N described to us the below video (a must watch):

When we were children, we were naturally inquisitive. Everything was new. Nothing was set in stone or had to be done a certain way. This boy demonstrates that – he still doesn’t understand or hasn’t been conditioned, for example, that some people consume animals and that’s just the way it is.

N encouraged us to harness our beginner’s minds. In class, she led us through poses we normally did in every class, but added a twist to each pose. The pace was slower, and we were made to see that we can do things in new, different ways, and that’s okay! It’s okay to not understand how everything will work or pan out. Instead of giving us the option of doing headstands, she instead stepped outside of yoga norm and made us do somersaults, so we could practice falling out of a headstand. Everyone in class was hesitant and scared to do somersaults, although we had all done them as children. It just felt awkward in an adult body. But we did it, and it really brought me back to my childhood, to doing flips in gymnastics for PE class. When did we learn that as adults, we shouldn’t play, we should be serious, we shouldn’t do somersaults? The practice of humility also includes the unlearning of habits and perspectives we’ve picked up over the years that don’t serve us.

I will definitely keep this in mind moving forward. I have a tendency, whenever I come face to face with a challenge, to worry that I don’t know how I will tackle it, that I can’t see the end result of me successfully conquering it. But perhaps that is okay. Perhaps that’s the whole point. With a beginner’s mind, none of that is a cause for concern. If we remain humble and see ourselves as beginners, we allow ourselves to relax a bit, breathe deeply and look at things with fresh eyes, without fear of making mistakes. We know that we are meant to learn as we go. And maybe something we wouldn’t have even thought of had we been so busy trying to act like an “expert” will show up and guide us to the right path.

 The peace and humility I hope to cultivate and embody. From when I visited Siem Reap, Cambodia earlier this year. The peace and humility I hope to cultivate and embody. From when I visited Siem Reap, Cambodia earlier this year.

xo

J

Weekend in El Nido

Spent the past weekend with my good friend S in El Nido, a group of islands here in the Philippines. Was a nice break from work and a wonderful immersion into nature and the ocean. The weekend was a good mix of rest and relaxation, water activities, and just plain ol’ being our silly selves.

 Kayaking in the small lagoon Kayaking in the small lagoon  Snorkeling with jackfish Snorkeling with jackfish  Stand up paddleboarding Stand up paddleboarding

This trip reminded me of how much joy, music, and dance live in the Filipino people. Everywhere we went, there were singing Filipinos greeting us. At the airport, at our resort, during meals. That’s part of what I love so much about my fellow countrymen. No matter what situation they are in, they always find a reason to celebrate and sing. Fiestas, parades, karaoke, you name it. Song and dance are in our blood.

I was also reminded of how much of the Philippines I have yet to explore! I grew up here for 17+ years, yet haven’t seen even a third of what the country has to offer. I’m lucky to have S, who lives in Manila and shares the same sentiment. We will hopefully be planning more weekend trips to explore in the future!

xo

J