What Does It Mean To Be a Parent?

Risking to enter the vegetative state?

Some people, like a former work colleague, do not even want to have children. This ex-colleague of mine believed that having children turns the parents into vegetative beings whose only role is to serve their offspring. I was quite taken aback when he stated his view.

For more than one year, I have experienced motherhood and continuous sleep deprivation. I must admit that there are days when I am in a vegetative state. But this mood is only the shell of my inner being. Deep inside, each day brings into light a new layer of the love I have for my little one. Furthermore, until now, I have figured out that parenthood is a mysterious journey, which can’t be anticipated.

What does love for our children mean?

It is easy to love my child when he smiles, when he is playful and funny. The challenge comes when he is cranky, whining, screaming and lying on the floor in protest – he has such behaviours even if he is only 15 months old. In those moments of “family crisis”, deep inside I love him equally and even more but at the surface, I am faced with negative emotions such as anger and irritation. And that’s when the challenge lies. Keeping the calm and finding ways out of these moments of crisis are must-to-develop skills for me and any other parent, most certainly.

We all want to bring up healthy, balanced and loving children, who have happy and meaningful lives. It is though so tempting to expect from our children to live the life we want them to live. And here, there is another challenge of parenthood: letting our children grow into adults and avoiding to burden them with our expectations.

My son’s uncle brings him toys and says, “He’ll be an engineer”. Sometimes I look at my son and I think, “He’ll be a dancer”. Few seconds after, I correct myself, “What are you thinking, woman? He’ll be whatever he wants to be.”

I don’t need to decide on his behalf what will make him happy. Instead, I need to make sure he is loved and we are present for him when he needs us.

Torn between love and setting limits

When he thinks he needs to climb on the kitchen cupboard, I say “No”, and he cries. It hurts so much more than I expected. But this is the journey of parenthood, rich in unexpected experiences and feelings.

A father’s confession

BTW. I stumbled upon a father’s confession about the inner changes that happened in him after his first baby was born. He realised that his individuality was turned into “duoviduality”: http://frankmartela.fi/2012/01/birth-of-a-child-or-when-you-expand-from-an-individual-into-a-duovidual/

It is revealing to hear some testimonials from the world of fathers in the Western societies as well.

So, Who Are You?

We are busy

Single people, people in relationships, people having a family – we buzz around all day long, in the pursuit of deeds that we perceive more or less meaningful.

Even the standard reply to the question “How are you?” has changed from “I am fine.” to “I am busy”. I wonder. Is it possible that we WANT to keep ourselves busy? Otherwise, how would we know what to do with ourselves? What thoughts and feelings would we have during half an hour of sitting in silence?

With whom to be better connected than with yourself?

When the evening comes and we put our head on the pillow, do we impersonate the wife, mother, student or subordinate that we were during daytime? Why not trying to find ourselves in the few minutes before sliding into the world of sleep?

What a treat at the end of the day, to reconnect to ourselves, to the joyous soul with which we came into this world! If we want to know why we came into this world, wouldn’t it be sensible to try to figure out who we were when we landed here? Who we were before we were damaged?

Maybe one night we get lucky and we feel our soul. We feel its core, its breath, and its wholeness. Who knows what else we would discover about who we truly are?

What if we don’t know how to reconnect to ourselves?

We need to look for help from the external environment so that we are put on the right track, which we would later follow on our own.

We need EXPOSURE. We need to start opening the channel that connects us to ourselves. For example, finding a group of people who are in a similar search and join them. Talk and discuss.

See the example of the Paphos Seminar, a one-week seminar on the psychology and philosophy of the good life, which has been organised twice a year for 18 years in Paphos, Cyprus by the philosopher Esa Saarinen (professor at Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland). The aim of the seminar is to help people “to construct their own ideas and to spread them internally”, “to open a broadband channel to people’ subjective sense of life orientation.” No ideas are imposed, simply a framework of philosophical ideas that offer food for thought. The participants are free to become emotional as they reflect upon different themes related to life, such as “present moment”, “love”, “choice” and “respect”. At the end of the seminar, each attendant discovers new insights into herself/himself.

The idea of this seminar can be replicated at a smaller case by you, me, by everyone. For example, how about gathering a group of friends with an interest in say, finding happiness, and discuss relevant books, every three months? (since we are busy people, maybe a more frequent interval for meetings is out of question.)

How about those ones of us who are too shy and too introvert for such sort of group activities? In this case, skipping the discussions and reading books on our own may equally help. Whatever works as long as we feel we have reached access the core of our souls.

Reflecting upon our life is enlightening the haze inside us. We don’t know why we are here but we should feel grateful for the life that was offered to us. Why not do the most with it and start by rescuing ourselves?

The Dormant Richness Inside Each One Of Us

Where does happiness come from?

“Happiness consists more in small conveniences or pleasures that occur every day, than in great pieces of good fortune that happen but seldom.”, Benjamin Franklin, the Founding Father of USA.

Most certainly, it is easy to agree with Benjamin Franklin’s view on happiness. We all have our small joys in life, such as watching a TV series or going to an ice-hockey game in the weekend. The problem is that we don’t perceive these small joys as real and long-lasting happiness. Instead, our minds are wired to chase the happiness, which comes from the “good fortune”. And this is how we go through life feeling empty, depressed, miserable, self-disillusioned and bitter.

The hope helps us survive the bottom line. We will be happy when we find love, when we get our dream job, when I get promoted, when we become a mother, when our sexual life gets better, when we are rich, after I divorce, etc. Yet, all these future expectations are beguiling and the very source of unhappiness. For example, if you do become rich, there will always be room for making more money. Therefore, the chase after happiness continues and the present is a struggle. Or, if you do get promoted, you may be disillusioned to realise that it is not bringing as much happiness as you expected.

Are there any chance for us human beings to be happy at certain points in our lifetime?

Research on happiness has flourished in the last ten years, offering to individuals self-help tips on how to find their own happiness. Here are few books, which I consider worthy of mentioning: Sonja Lyubormiski, The Myths of Happiness, and Robert Biswas-Diener and Ed Diener, Unlocking The Mysteries of Psychological Wealth. Scientific studies show that we can at least reach happy moods and irrespective of what causes these happy moods, they “lead people to be more productive, more likeable, more active, more healthy, more friendly, more helpful, more resilient, and more creative.” (Sonja Lyubomirsky, The How of Happiness, pp. 265)

Have you ever made this test to observe people from the distance? If you did, I am sure you agree that you can spot the unhappy ones by the way they carry themselves. Especially in the case of us women, the gloomy atmosphere in our minds reflects in our body movements.

Has it ever happened to you to adopt new ways of thinking for few days and think you are finally happy just before you slide back into the old way of viewing the world? Is sustainable happiness but an abstract concept that exists in the work of psychologists such as Sonja Lyubomirsky?

Can we reach a steady level of happiness?

How we relate to happiness differs from one individual to another, depending on our genetical heritage, our childhood and adulthood experiences. However, I strongly believe that we all can find our glimpses of long-lasting happiness by digging out the dusty characteristics which make us human.

Compassion, empathy, love, gratitude, altruism, soul-to-soul connection: they all live in us, the problem is that they have been forgotten. The age of science has brought wonderful advancements into the world at the cost of taking us away from who we really are: human beings.

If we want to be happy, we need to take a good look inside and cultivate the seeds of all these characteristics that make us human. Yes, it hurts when we feel that there is not love in our life. While we are waiting for love, we’d benefit from turning our face and soul towards the people around us and offer them the crumbles of love that there are in us. When we hear about a sick person who needs money for surgery, why not donating few euros from our income? Why not joining a group of people with similar interests?

Life happens now and we fool ourselves if we think we have control over it and we’ll be happy tomorrow. If we can control something, well that something is the humanity in us. The happiness will follow it.

 

I Dream of Seeing More Compassion

What Do Religions Teach us?

Compassion, the feeling of concern for other person’s wellbeing, is one the main teachings of buddhism. In his book, Becoming Enlightened, His Holiness Dalai Lama talks about engendering great compassion on way to enlightenment. He describes seven steps to committing yourself to help others, which revolve around the idea of teaching your mind to find everyone dear and cultivate love for human beings, such as the poor and vulnerable.

Christianity talks also about the compassion in the parable of the good Samaritan, told by Jesus in the New Testament. The Samaritan helps a traveller which had been beaten and left almost dead on the side of the road, whereas the priest who had first passed by avoided the injured man.

My Experiences

My mother has always told me to help people who are in need. She repeated this message so many times throughout my childhood that it became one of my fundamental believes.

At my grandfather’s funeral, a friend of his told me a story about grandfather. One night, the two of them were walking home. They met a stranger who was going to walk all the way to the next village. It was a cold night and grandfather offered his jacket to the stranger. He was quite close to his home and the stranger needed the jacket more than he did. I was very close to my late grandfather but he had never mentioned this story to me. I would have never known it if it hadn’t been for his friend.

Ever since I’ve been a mother, I became more aware about how people behave towards my baby and I. For example, for one year, I have been walking around pushing the pram and carrying the baby bag in my back. When entering the stores, I keep the door open with one hand and with the other hand, I hold onto the pram. People come in and out as if I were hired to be the doorwoman or as if I were invisible. Rarely, someone notices me and keeps the door open so that I can enter as well.

Other times, it happens that I have to stand in line for buying a train ticket, for example. With a 11kg baby in the arms, fighting to escape, I decide to go in front and ask for permission to buy the ticket. Most of the times, people look at me as if I were a strange creature, talking a language they don’t understand. Their facial expression says, “Why don’t you stand in line like the rest of us?”. There is usually one person in the line who shouts, “Let her pass, she has a baby, can’t you see?”

What Do Scientists Tell Us?

I’ve been wondering why do I see so few reflections of compassion in my every day life? Do people feel compassion at all? Or is compassion but a virtue set as an example – never to be attained by humans – in spiritual and religious books? Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher, thought of compassion as a “soft-heartedness and should not occur at all among human beings.” (http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_compassionate_instinct)

However, recent studies done by psychologists and neuroscientists show that Kant was not right in his judgement. Both the body and the brain seem to be wired so that we respond to other people suffering. Yet, feeling compassion is different from acting as a result of feeling.

Social researcher David DeSteno did an experiment which showed that people have the tendency to help others if they perceive some commonality with the person they decide to help (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/15/opinion/sunday/the-science-of-compassion.html). He concludes that compassion can be cultivated by changing the way we perceive the people around us: in terms of similarities. DeSteno’s finding confirms the first step to practising compassion recommended by Buddhist teachings:

“I have difficulty seeing any person in the long past who has not been your father, mother, uncle, aunt, sister, master, abbot, guru or guiding figure.” (Dalai Lama, Becoming Enlightened, pp. 166)

My Conclusion

In conclusion, compassion lives in all of us. It is a matter of being aware that it is in us, and to be willing to practice it and cultivate it. Next time when I keep the door open so that people can come in and out of the store, I will be saying out loud, “You’re welcome!”

 

A New Kind of Gratefulness

At the end of 2012 and beginning of 2013, I have experienced a strong feeling of gratitude for a group of people I have never met but whose sacrifice had a tremendous influence on my destiny. This group of people are the ones who rebelled against the Communist regime in Romania in December 1989. They risked their lives for the right to live in a democratic country.

The protests took place from 16 December to 22 December when unarmed people rioted against the guns, tanks, and anti-terrorist troops (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romanian_Revolution_of_1989). I don’t know how they must have felt or what must have been the last thoughts in the minds of the protesters who lost their lives during the protests. It took 1104 deaths and 3352 injured protestants to take Ceausescu down.

Starting with that bloody December 1989, Romanian people had the right to freedom of speech and expression. I am one of them and each December, I feel indebted to light a candle for those people who died so that I can have the life that I have now.

Life is such a dynamic network of connections between people. While we focus on our mini universes, there are moments when our actions benefit other person’s life. Our souls are connected at a higher level of existence and in this life, our lives are pieces of a big puzzle of humanity.

At the beginning of a new year, I have my heart full of gratitude for being part of this puzzle of humanity and I hope that one day, my actions are going to bring positive changes into other persons lives. Happy New Year! :)