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Spirituality and Kids

Okay, so this post is a biggie for me. I generally only write very vaguely about my spirituality on the blog (and other places online, and in person, to be completely honest). It's a combination of not knowing quite how to explain what it is I believe and being afraid of sharing it and gaining negative reactions and/or getting myself into theosophical debates with people who have very specific sources of information to refer to when I don't. 

TJ bought me a book called "Pagan Parenting" for Christmas and there is a section within it that sums this up very nicely:

"[…]This raises the question of whether to be totally honest or to pretend to be like everyone else. It is a question faced daily by anyone on the fringes of the majority […] Children growing up with metaphysical beliefs will often not share this side of themselves with mainstream friends for fear of rejection and ridicule.[…] A large part of one's public profile is deciding what should be encompassed within that role. For most followers of mainstream religions, this is not even a question that comes to mind. Unless the individual is extremely devout, religion is not often a part of their public persona. They neither hide it nor broadcast it. It is like skin color, hair color or anything else that is an integral part of who we are without needing to think about it."

In many ways I'm like the child mentioned in that. I have an instinctual urge to be honest and open about who I am and what I believe, but there is that fear of ridicule or rejection. And if I feel that myself, it is only to be expected that Little Man will pick up on this and learn by my example how to fear these things too.

So being honest, first to myself and then to others, is essential if I truly want Little Man to grow up knowing it is perfectly okay for him to explore his own spirituality and choose his own path. I can't tell him to do one thing when I am doing something opposite myself. 

TJ is much better at living his spirituality than I am. He likes ritual and "being a part of something" and it was his idea to dress up for Beltane when we were in Glastonbury this year (in fact he bought the dress for me because I was taking my own sweet time to decide on something!)

But I don't really like ritual. I feel embarrassed when doing it, and personally find it takes my mind and heart away from the matter at hand. I love the idea of it and know it works well for so many people, but I'm just not very good at it. 

So whereas TJ finds quite a lot of help and ideas in various Pagan sources, I continue to find myself falling somewhere just on the outside, not quite sure of where I belong. There is no uncertainty in what it is I believe, that's a mistake people sometimes make when I say this. I know quite strongly what is essential to me and those things that I haven't quite figured out yet, well that's what life is for, right? But expressing it and living it is another matter.

You may wonder why I feel this need to be open about it all. Surely the quotation I used at the beginning of the post points out that a lot of people do keep their spiritual and public lives separate. The problem for me is that although I can quite happily keep them separate for the most part, there are times when my spirituality is essential for explaining my outlook on life and how I get through certain things.

For instance, before we started trying to conceive I had come to a certain "peace" with the thought that if we were "meant" to have our own child we would but if not it meant that there was a different path for us to follow. This "peace" wasn't easy and of course my heart desperately wanted to experience carrying my own child. We were incredibly lucky to have that opportunity, but the hell of a HG pregnancy (further complicated by Obstetric Cholestasis) means that there were times when I truly wondered what I was meant to "learn" from this and what it meant for our future. I still don't know the answers to those questions, but my spirituality still helps me by reassuring me that even if I don't know the answer, someone (or something) does!

And so this reassurance is something that I want to share with Little Man. I want him to know that even when he feels at his most vulnerable and most alone, there is someone he can turn to. I want him to see beyond what is obvious and look to the deeper meaning behind things, to see the connection between all life and all living things so that respecting nature and our environment and other people is more than just something he is "expected" to do. 

I want him to understand that mummy and daddy do certain things for a reason. That we choose to use cloth nappies, try and eat healthy, locally grown foods when we can, and want to do all we can for those around us because that is our way of honouring the life we have been given and the life all around us. 

And the only way I can do this, truly do it, is to live it. Which means stepping out from the fear of rejection and ridicule and being true to myself and my spirituality. And this also means honouring and sharing TJ's own individual spirituality (which is different to my own) and in turn honouring Little Man's too. 

But how do you do this without risking that same rejection and ridicule for your child? What if something I do, some choice I make or some post I write on here has a negative reaction that comes back to Little Man? Judgement waits around every corner and although I believe in being as open and honest as you can be, I do know that sometimes holding back is a good thing. 

Where is the balance? How much of yourself do you share, to avoid confusion and to have trusting relationships with others based on honesty and truth? It's such a difficult thing to know and if I was scared about it before, I'm even more scared about it now that my actions could negatively affect Little Man. Without a "mainstream" understanding and image to guide and support us, where do we start?

I don't know if I'll ever know the answer, but I do know that it is an important question to ask!

Faith: believing in what you cannot prove

I’ve been thinking about faith a lot recently, more than I usually do which is saying something. I am an immensely curious person when it comes to faith and how it is personal to each and every of us. I find myself reading the accounts of others on how their faith affects their lives, and regularly get myself in a philosophical tangle trying to understand how so many religions and spiritual paths have developed over the centuries, many teaching that theirs is the “only way” while completely missing or even denying the common threads that bind them all together.

This is something I think I will be confused by for the rest of my life, but this past week I realised something that made it that little bit easier for me to grasp. I cannot remember exactly what I was watching or reading at the time but I do remember suddenly feeling very clear about the idea that faith is believing in something that you cannot prove.

I think I always knew this at some level, but realising it so clearly made me realise just why I find it so difficult to fit into many religious or spiritual communities. I quite simply cannot work out the balance I need between sharing common thoughts and experiences while remembering to honour those which may not feel quite so true for us personally.

And this leads me to wonder exactly how we’re going to introduce and teach faith and spirituality to our child in a way that provides the least confusion whilst leaving it open for him to find his own personal faith. Young children want firm answers to most of their questions, and can often take what you say or do as the absolute truth that they should follow in life. I know this is a part of growing up, but I do want to try and give our son the best chance of knowing that whatever he feels to be true is the most important thing for him when it comes to faith.

How, for example, do I teach him the difference between science and faith? Science is something that relies totally on proof. We accept the ‘facts of life’ such as the world is round and the boiling point of water is 100ºc without question. And yet, at the same time, all of our major scientific breakthroughs come from a person’s ability to look beyond the obvious and question the ‘facts’. Perhaps there is a little more in common between science and faith than first meets the eye. After all, a scientist and a pilgrim are both seekers of ‘truth’, the first being unquestionable proof, the second being more personal.

For me personally though faith is so much more. It is an act of trust in something you cannot know for sure, and that is a huge commitment. Asking someone to believe in the power of gravity is a lot less than asking someone to believe in something that cannot be proven in any concrete way. With faith you have to decide what feels right to you in your own heart rather than relying on the convictions and reassurances of another. I know I could never question that gravity exists, yet I could easily dispute the idea someone has about God.

And this brings in another aspect of faith: how do we fully trust in something beyond ourselves without feeling the need to prove and justify that trust when someone else has a completely different view on the matter? How do I introduce my child to the world beyond the obvious without giving him too many of my own ideas as ‘the truth’? For me the things I believe may be my own truth, and I’d be happy if my son decides he believes in something similar, but how do I ensure he has the opportunity to seek for his own truth as well?

I do not want to project too many of my own ideas onto his life because I want him to be able to follow his own path in life. But I know that in his first few years he is going to need someone to trust and follow to even begin to develop an understanding of something beyond himself. So I guess it is all about finding the balance between sharing my own (and Tim’s) faith with him in these early years but subtly teaching him that it is perfectly okay and valuable to question and seek for his own answers. I hope that by finding some kind of balance like that, he will find it easier to choose his own path when he reaches an age where that is what he wants and needs to do.

When I think back to my own childhood, I realise took everything for granted. If someone told me something about life or God then I accepted it. And yet I also see that even at a young age I had beliefs that I cannot possibly have been taught by anyone else because they are uniquely personal to me and it took me many years to realise that they didn’t really fit in with the groups I was a part of at certain times in my teenage and early adult years. So perhaps I am underestimating children’s ability to question and find their own path with even the most minimal input from others.

Young children are inherently trusting: they trust their carers to show them how life works. They watch and mimic us to develop skills for life, and even overcome what must be the scariest experiences when they come across something new and alien to them. I remember once walking along a beach and a young family we passed were trying to introduce their toddler to the feeling of sand under her feet. The little girl was obviously very unsure and uncomfortable of this new substance, and clung to her parents and lifted her feet as far away from the sand as possible. And yet, within minutes she had decided to trust her parents and take her first tentative steps and effectively learnt that all was well and the sand was actually quite fun to play in!

Such trust in those who care for us is immense and we often forget that. As adults we become used to using our own discernment to decide if something is safe or not. We have gained enough knowledge and experience to trust in our own understanding of the world. But for a child this knowledge and experience is still being built and they have to rely on their carers to provide this for them. And I think this is why the faith we have as children is so much purer and secure than that which we have as adults. In some ways we have a lot less freedom in our ability to have faith as adults than we ever had as children.

Which brings me back to my original point: faith is believing in something that cannot be proven. As adults we seek confirmation and proof of most things in life, which for me explains why we so often feel the need to justify our own faith to others. We need to feel that our convictions in life are accepted by others, not just because we crave acceptance but also because it gives more strength to our ability to believe. But the beauty of faith is that we do trust in something that we cannot prove.

I could write about this for hours, but I don’t want to. What I will do though is leave you with a clip from Futurama that I saw the other day and which brought it all home to me once again. Isn’t it great when even our comedy shows can have things that make us think on such a deep level?


 

 

Keeping Faith: Finding Meaning

A couple of month's ago I started a new series called "Keeping Faith" with a post entitled "Why I Believe". Now as we enter the new year and I look back on all we have come through in the past, it makes sense to expand on this with a post on how this faith helps in times of need.

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It doesn't matter who you are or how perfect your life may seem to an outsider, there will always be times in your life that inner turmoil reigns over inner peace. It could be the loss of a loved one, a change in careers or even a new relationship: the things that shake us do not have to be negative to cause us to lose balance inside.

I remember when I first started my relationship with Tim. The strength of the emotions I felt in connection to him was so overwhelming that I panicked. At first it was visible as "I like him, but I don't know how much I like him", and eventually turned into, "I like him, but I don't know what to do with these feelings". Such was the intensity that I actually became physically ill and it took Tim's wisdom in saying "we can go back to being friends if that's what you want," for my heart to finally conquer the fears of my mind and scream "don't you dare lose him!"

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Such times can be as baffling as other times are painful. Your whole world can be torn apart by fear, confusion or anger. When it feels that life is spiralling out of control and you have no idea where you are headed, that is when faith can help you find meaning.

Earlier this week I wrote about the time, seven years ago, that I re-found my faith and it brought me back from a very dark place. Although such a huge shift in perspective doesn't happen every day, the smaller comforts of faith can be just as helpful. 

Over the past few years, for example, I have had to come to terms with Endometriosis and the effects it can have on my life. Faith helped me to realise that I didn't have to hide this side of myself, that I didn't have to act as if nothing was wrong and that, in fact, I was stronger if I accepted this aspect of my life and learnt to live with it as opposed to despite it. 

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Without faith I would have found it meaningless pain, but with faith I began to see the blessings within it. Endometriosis, for all the pain it causes, teaches me so much about life, compassion and awareness of self and others. I am more passionate about seeing the burdens others have to overcome, and I am grateful for the insight this gives me into the strength of the human spirit.

But it is perhaps, when my faith is failing, that I realise just how much I rely on it. Only when I lost the ability to see beyond the present challenge and find the meaning within it did I truly value the power of faith. Without it, I fell into a pit of despair and depression.

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It has taken me a long time to find my way back beyond the anger, jealousy and fear that tore my spirit apart, and yet now I have I realise just how much meaning faith can bring to life. With faith, no matter what form it takes, even the biggest challenge has a role to play, and although it may not ease the physical pain it can certainly ease the ache in your heart. But more that that, the greatest gift it can provide is this: the courage to keep seeking, and facing each challenge, with the hope that one day it will all have been worth it!

Keeping Faith… Why I believe…

First of all, I must say a massive thanks to all those of you who left comments and sent messages to me following my previous post. I am overwhelmed by the response, for I don't think any post I've written has ever inspired so many people to leave a message. I guess being honest and sharing even those most scary thoughts really does make for good reading!

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So I thought I would expand on this openness and start a new series about the more spiritual nature and inspiration in my life. I have steered clear of going too deeply into this subject before through both a fear of alienating my readers and bringing judgemental, argumentative or theological responses that I cannot answer. 

You see, if someone asks me "what" I believe, I find it difficult to answer. This isn't just because of a fear of rejection, but also because it is hard to define something that is more a feeling and intuition than a solid and measurable thing.

I also feel rather weakly equipped, for although I know the basics of the Bible and Christianity (for example) when their scriptures, teachings or theologies are presented to me as a way of discussing or debating a certain issue I am often at a loss. This does not mean I dislike such conversations, as they can be very interesting and revealing, I just find them difficult when the other person has a range of quotations and religious examples to make their point and I have to somehow take what I feel in my heart and make sense of it with words.

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I may be good with words, but something as personal as faith is very hard to define (and defend, if arguments do arise). Even more difficult can be explaining to someone how you believe in pretty much the same thing that they do, are willing to accept their beliefs as spiritual truths, but are unwilling to accept and follow their religion. I still haven't figured that one out yet…

But ask me "why" I believe, and that I can answer far more easily. 

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I believe, because I do.

There has never been a time in my life that I cannot remember feeling that someone was there. My mind has always been enquiring: as a child I remember lying in bed trying to figure out how we know if we are dreaming or not, and where our thoughts occur because they are far too big to fit in our heads. I could imagine whole worlds in my mind's eye, so where was this world occurring? 

I never once stopped questioning things, but I never once questioned that God existed. (I use the word God as it is what I am most comfortable with, but there was a time in my early adulthood that I felt religion has taken the word away from me and I looked for alternative words such as Source and Energy but eventually I came back to the word God as it felt right for me). 

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I've spent years talking to someone, telling them everything from what I was feeling to what I was planning on doing. It was like a conversation took place in my mind, but there was someone else there to hear it. I even laughed and responded to some unheard reply sometimes, never quite knowing exactly why. I may sound mad, but it is how I live and I'll take madness over loneliness any day.

It didn't matter who this person was, I just knew that someone was there, guiding me, comforting me, and inspiring me. When I became too self-absorbed and run-down by life's events I lost the feeling of security that came with knowing someone was there, but still I talked, sharing my grief. And when things got exciting, I jumped for joy, knowing someone was watching.

So although my answer "I believe, because I do" may sound like a cop-out, it truly is the best way to answer the question of why I believe. To not believe is as alien a concept to me as to not hope or fear. 

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And I cannot blame this on some aspect of my upbringing because my parents never really spoke of anything beyond the visible until after my granddad died when I was 9, by which stage my belief was well and truly founded already.

Sure I came across aspects of religion in school, but never enough to form the strong bond I had with this unseen force. And besides, I only have to look at my conversations with "God" during the times I was angry with religion to know that no matter what questions I had about the specifics of it all, I could never doubt the existence of something beyond the world I see.

Incidentally, I believe in a lot more things than God, but the point is not to discuss that. I only mention it to point out that whilst our environment and upbringing can affect our ideas of the world to an extent, it really is our own ability to create our own beliefs that makes them as strong as they are.