bodhicitta bookshelf | “introducing teddy” by jessica walton

My local library has so many treasures but to find Jessica Walton’s Introducing Teddy: A Gentle Story about Gender + Friendship on prominent display among its new book section was an absolute surprise and delight!

Immersed in Difference

My son is growing up in an interfaith, multi-ethnic, and multi-racial family and has friendships with children of similar backgrounds. While differences abound they can, however, easily get overlooked and go uncelebrated by an extended family that is focused on loving each other through life’s uncertainties, entrances, exits and shifting tides — birth, marriage, graduation, disability, illness, death, financial woes, retirement, unemployment, new opportunities, etc.

In other words, many culturally-blended families appear to become colorblind and/or unwittingly comfortable in their neglect of healthy discussions about their multiplicities (unless some external circumstance prompts it).

When young kids are in that “hyper-literal” phase they can perceive concrete differences in appearance such as skin tone and hair but race and culture are abstract concepts. My family still laughs at the 25-year old memory of my fair-skinned aunt being identified as white by her brown-skinned preschool-aged son. Kids of a certain age simply see what they see, so “blackness” will be questioned when one’s complexion is literally not a shade resembling the coal-colored pigment known as “black.”

Gender, on the other hand, often seems to be a child’s first encounter with a recognizable difference that can appear to be concrete. Girls look, do, and act like this and boys look, do, and act like that. And, as we well know, it’s reinforced from the day they enter the world by the colors and toys they’re assigned.

Who Has What

We can easily talk with our littles about biology (hat tip to Robie Harris for her awesome book on anatomy whose title I borrowed above), body parts, and body safety to help them protect themselves and to respect that each of us is “the boss of our own bodies” (h/t to another must-read from the bodhicitta bookshelf).

Although my son sees me, a cisgendered woman with a shaved head and wardrobe free of dresses (minus my pjs) and other women, of varying self-proclaimed identities, in our lives who express themselves in gender non-conforming ways, we cannot avoid the dominant cultural “ideals” about how gender is lived out. So whenever a gendered statement is made (be it on television, in a book, or uttered by a loved one), I am quick to challenge, correct, and explain it in terms that I hope will uproot seeds of bias in my child.

But how do we introduce age-appropriate lessons about gender identity and fluidity, especially when we love people who are trans and who are lesbian and gay and express themselves in ways that are non-conforming? Especially when our children are not old enough to see and understand the more complex concepts of sexuality and identity?

Beyond upholding the virtues of kindness, fairness and respect in how we treat others, I didn’t have a clear answer. Neither did my friend who is trans! Even after living as their authentic self for several years, they had preteen family members with whom they are extremely close yet didn’t know how to discuss their transition.

What a grace to provide this early lesson on how to honor and acknowledge the full spectrum of humanity — our particularies and sameness!

Advertisements

Be Kind To Yourself Week 2013: May the Ending be Your New Beginning

Wow! I’m so moved by all who “joined” this movement, invited others, shared their experiences, took a moment to consider how they perceive/speak to/treat themselves, and wholeheartedly committed acts of self-kindness!

The official event week may be over but let your practice continue:

  • Speak skillfully and gently to yourself! Suspend the inner critic. We can acknowledge mistakes or areas we wish to improve without judging or demeaning ourselves.
  • Honor your inner wisdom and be generous with giving yourself all that you need to support your well-being. Do not abandon yourself! Develop healthy boundaries and conserve your resources (emotional, physical, creative, etc.) so that you do not become depleted or resentful.
  • Acknowledge and honor your strengths, talents and contributions. Do not get caught up in the self-defeating cycles of comparison. We all have something to contribute to our relationships and communities. Though our circumstances may not allow us to share/contribute in equal measure as another, we can commit to the practice of giving wholeheartedly (without doubt, bitterness, frustration, etc.). Remember still that equal is not identical! Be free to share in a way that is authentic to you.
  • “Keep company with the wise.” Spend time with people who diligently nourish this grace, loving-kindness and compassion for themselves and others.

Bowing deeply with gratitude for the mindfulness that was nourished this week and to Carolyn W. of our meditation community (Lansing Area Mindfulness Community) for launching this inter-faith initiative.Image

breathing beauty into the world: a mindfulness practice for children (who are learning to see with eyes of compassion)

Each day I rise, waking to a world of possibilities.

I breathe and smile, happy and ready to learn, grow and share.

I see the sky, sun, clouds above me.

I see the earth, plants, water below me.

I feel the air around me.

I breathe and smile, knowing that I am in the world and the world is in me.

I choose to see beauty in myself, my family, my friends, my neighbors, my teachers, my community, and all living creatures.

I choose to speak words from my heart that are true, helpful, inspiring, necessary, and kind.

I choose to act from my heart in ways that are helpful, healthy, inspiring, and kind.

Even when I do not feel or act my best (whether I am sad, scared, confused or angry), I remember to place my hands on my heart and breathe.

I smile, knowing I can begin anew.
I can ask for help and comfort from those I trust and love.

Each night, I rest, thankful for all that I learned and shared.

I see the sky, moon, stars above me.

I see the beauty all around me. I breathe and smile, knowing that I am in the world and the world is in me.

[originally written Fall 2012]

This writing has multiple sources of inspiration:
  • My experiences as an aunt, mother, and substitute teaching assistant for a preschool program;
  • My experiences as a practitioner and teacher of yoga and meditation, which is rooted in my practice of Zen Buddhism in the lineage of Thich Nhat Hanh;
  • My dear friend TaNesha Barnes, who asked me some time last year to create an affirmation for Beyond The Surface, the critical thinking and social justice academy she literally built in her own backyard!  A 21st-century embodiment of Wonder Woman, TaNesha is a mother, entrepreneur (t. barnes beauty), educator and social justice advocate with a clear heart-driven mission to empower students to become “global thinkers for equitable living.” When she recently posted the draft version of this piece (typed one late-night and stored as a memo on my BlackBerry) on Facebook, I was not only honored that she announced it would be recited daily in her upcoming program, Breathing Beauty Rites of Passages for Black Girls, but also compelled to add some long-awaited finishing touches! I am so deeply grateful to have lived, learned and grown up with TaNesha over the last 19 years and, on this 50th anniversary of the March on Washington (#MOW50), am excited to continue collaborating with her on programs that merge spirituality and wellness with social justice.

On “Loving-Kindness” ~ Pema Chodron

Our personal attempts to live humanely in this world are never wasted.
Choosing to cultivate love rather than anger just might be what it takes to save the planet from extinction.

What is it that allows our goodwill to expand and our prejudice and anger to decrease?
This is a significant question.

Traditionally it is said that the root of aggression and suffering is ignorance.
But what is it that we are ignoring?

Entrenched in the tunnel vision of our personal concerns, what we ignore is our kinship with others.

One reason we train as warrior-bodhisattvas is to recognize our interconnectedness—to grow in understanding that when we harm another, we are harming ourselves.

So we train in recognizing our uptightness.
We train in seeing that others are not so different from ourselves.
We train in opening our hearts and minds in increasingly difficult situations.

~ Pema Chodron, “Loving-Kindness” from The Places That Scare You

[emphasis + formatting,  mine]