Conscious Parenting: A story about a yoga teacher and a boy on a walk…

by Pete Roussel, Saha Astitva friend.
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Pete Rousell has been dropping in at Saha Astitva’s Eco Farm every year on his way into and out of Goa where he teachers yoga during the holiday season.  We loved his story of an afternoon walk with a reluctant young boy and his parents and how bringing consciousness to an awkward situation has been transforming for all of them…
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sullen boy
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I was having some friends (young family) over for an afternoon at my little home in Goa. We had a some lunch and we were chilling in the warmth of the afternoon sun. My mate had to nip out so we hung out and killed time playing games.
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Me and his son had a laugh and mum got to chill peacefully next to us… When dad came back I wanted to show my friendly family the short walk from my house. I wanted to move my legs so I invited them to walk with me to a delightful spot that is by the river.   The young son was reluctant but I didn’t pay much heed to his protest and we set out after I reassured him it was a short walk;  “Its only five minutes to the end of the road” I said by way of reassurance.
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We set off down the road but before long more complaints and protest from the young lad seemed to have a persuasive effect on the parents.  I was resolute in my firm and clear way (perhaps too self assured) that the walk was an excellent idea and urged us all to continue. This escalated into a struggle with the will of a 7 year old against mine. Parents trying to console, bride and convince him, just to ease the mounting tension between these boyish egos.
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The nature was stunning. Eagles littered the air. Landing on ancient trees on a mud flat island in the large estuary, they fought and tussled in the warm humid river air. Fast flying bush birds shot about close by and a iridescent blue kingfisher perched above a brook watching patiently.
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Meanwhile the lad is fussing and mum is lagging behind to reassure and console the increasingly upset child. I walk on trying not to show my annoyance at the disturbance to my serene afternoon stroll.
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A splash of sandy mud on the ankle of the boy sparked an almighty fuss about the need to go back. The garbled rational of the unconsolable boy shifted to broken promises, namely that the whole walk was unfair because I had said it was only five minuets and we had been out much longer.
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Kicking and screaming the lad followed reluctantly and failed to notice the surroundings completely. In other circumstances I was aware that a boy his age and with so much energy and intelligence might relish the tropical surroundings and wild nature, I was surprised that the walk appeared to him to be such a hardship for him but my overall sentiment was resentment that all this fuss over nothing seemed to be dominating the scene.
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We reached the end of the road where the estuary swallows the road and only birds, fish and fishermen can proceed so we turn back to walk the 300m home. Still the boy is digging his heals in and stubbornly refusing to co-operate with the group consensus that the walk was a nice thing to do. His rhetoric continued, the “boringness”, “the waste of time” and “lies” I had told. By now his voice was raised in a tantrum and tears (perhaps crocodile) were trickling down. Mum was being very sweet and exceedingly patient, but I was losing it!
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I snapped, I turned back from the position a few metres ahead I had assumed to keep us moving and raised my voice to the lad. I was annoyed, not angry, and there was a subtle presence behind my outburst. I could see the bright being within the personality of the young boy, I could sense his vulnerability and the delicate nature of his sensibility. I had no intention of intimidating him or proving him wrong but something in me spurred me into action. Perhaps I could sense the nature of confusion in his “story” of events, or perhaps I could see my own pain of past in his misery? A force came out of me, loud and clear but without blame, the power it came with surprised me and my new friends but they gave me space to air my view to their dear boy for it had gone too far. The barrage that ensued had a clear rational and was delivered with language that aimed not to blame the boy for his behaviour but to present the way I saw things and challenge some of the assumptions that seemed to be present in what he was crying about. I figured what I wanted was best found by appealing to his higher nature.
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I kind of laid into him, demanding his focus by matching the noisiness of his fuss with my own fuss. I asked him, challenged him, about the accusation that I was a liar and that these events were a hardship. I challenged him to experience this moment differently. The way I saw it, the young lad got the focus of his attention stuck in a loop, the loop circled him into a definition of being a victim of the circumstances, a victim of my lies and was characterising the events as negative and unwelcome, even traumatising!
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This young lad is bright, really intelligent like his parents. I was having great time meeting and getting to know these new friends but I felt I was risking loosing them with my outburst. It was an unconventional approach and quiet spontaneous. Despite the intensity of the delivery, it seems to be the appropriate thing to do in the moment. Both to express myself skilfully and not harbour resentment from that day and also to attempt to help the lad shift his focus out of the suffering his was undergoing.
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” I have had it!” I exclaimed. “I invited you to my house, I cooked for you, we eat together, I cleaned up after us, we played games together and now I am guiding you on an adventure in amazing Indian nature. And this is the what you return to me?!”
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“You claim that this walk has been a hardship inflicted on you! You claim I am a liar? What I said was a description of the distance to the end of the road from my house, “it is five minuets to the end.” I said” ” I made no claim about how long the walk would take, even if I had how could I know that?”
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“it is the fuss and tantrums that you have insisted on that have prolonged the time we have spent out here and characterised these events as a misery. Further more, I personally find this walk, the surrounding and the company (including you) delightful” I told him.
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I elaborated
“I find you a very interesting person and I was happy to be your friend, you are a lovely lad I think, but now your behaviour is really putting me off.”
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“that you don’t enjoy this experience is due to the way you are looking at things. NOT what we are doing to you. The reality is that we are simply going for a short walk. Yes it took longer than five minuets, but you will find that in life, not only now, things don’t always happen the way you thought they would. In fact they rarely do! In life the future is unknowable, no matter what you think, no matter what anyone tells you, no matter what you hope, or what you like or don’t like, it is simply impossible to know how the future will unfold.
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The extent to which you are traumatised now, is the extent to which you are unwilling to accept this turn of events. I suggest you look at this for yourself, don’t take my word for it. See for yourself, we can’t predict everything that will happen and if it happens differently from what we expect that that simply confirms the illusory nature of the assumptions we hold.
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“Going with the flow and accepting the situation can open you up to enjoy the very thing that is a hardship. In this circumstance there is no real hardship. You are very lucky boy. Your mum and dad both love you very much and are here with you spending time together peacefully, lovingly. We have food in our belly, time on our hands the sun is shining and we are making new friends. On top of this we are exploring a new corner of beautiful Nature, the wild life is fantastic, the breeze is cooling us off and I love to stretch my legs on a short walk by the water. It doesn’t get much better than this and if you can’t find it in you to enjoy this then your life may well be a misery. (and I don’t want that)” I added.
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“I am enjoying the delight of this moment, of meeting a lovely new friend like you and having friends over for lunch. But how am I rewarded? You call me an abuser and a lair that is making your life a tournament. Well I have had it!” I made my ultimatum
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“I recommend you re-think the situation, right now and dry up those tears and count your blessings.”
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“Life is a gift, you can’t give it back so best to find out how to enjoy it. These events are not as concrete as they at first seems to be. Looking at the walk as a hardship inflicted upon you will make it appear so. The suffering you experience is due to the fact that you thought it was going to be different. As it became obvious you had not got it right, you got into a fuss that it should be another way. This is the cause of your misery, no one else here is giving you grief. In fact we all love you and think you are a great lad. We are happy to be here with you and sharing together. I think this walk is a delight and I wanted to share my delight with my friends so I invited you here. Only to find that you spit in my face!
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“Can you see that?” If you can you might see that there is a choice here? When you noticed that it was not what you expected, you could look at it in two different ways.
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“Even if I was a liar and you had believed me, you still had a choice. In that moment that you realised the walk was going to be longer than the five minuets you could choose: You could choose to dig your heels in, make a fuss about the wrong that was being done to you and refuse to enjoy the experience, effectively making your life a misery.
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Or you can choose to accept that things seemed to be going differently from the way you had expected and enjoy them for what they are, to make the most of it, to embrace the grace of these events. The difference in the outcome of these two ways of seeing has profound effect in the way you experience your life.
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One way you see restrictive parents, you alienate your new friend and see the hardship of walking through boring fields, getting dirty and being told what to do. The other way you witness the magic of the unexpected unfolding right before your eyes, you see the world anew, discover little plants and birds you’ve never seen before, even enjoying the quality of the fresh sea air we have here passing through our nose as we breath! You could revel in finding new ways to get to know your host and feel grateful that a stranger is willing to feed you, play with you and get to know you, posing no threat to you or asking anything in return.
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I left a pause for this tirade to sink in. Particularly the bit about the breath, I wanted him to notice that part. I felt that if he could notice that the simplest discrete thing like the breath was a delight it might help the fuss and upset subside.
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I tried not to blame the lad for behaving the way he did but told him that I thought his behaviour was unacceptable to me and that I feared for his future if he saw friends as such monsters. I wanted him to look at the same reality from a different point of view, so I didn’t want to give him anything to react to like blaming him and telling him how he ‘should be’.
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After a pause I concluded
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“In that moment that you realised that things were going differently from the way you had been thinking about them you can make your life a misery and try to spread that over others (in this case me and your parents) or you can surrender and get on with enjoying this gift. That choice is yours now and it will alway be there as an option for you.”
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Leaving him to think, somewhat bewildered by my out burst, but clearly connecting to what I was suggesting we (his parents and I) walked on.
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As I turned my back to the wind to finish the walk home I felt a strange peacefulness tinged with delight. I was very grateful that my emotion had found an expression that was true for me and yet did not exceed is boundaries by turning into blame and control. The lad was ready to fend off any attempt to control him, persuade or manipulate him but I felt I had managed to stick to the truth of the matter and inspire him to look at it for himself. I owned the way I see it and give him options to come to his own conclusion as a mature individual. It could have been too grown up for someone so young but he had demonstrated to me that he was bright and insightful for his age and he had won my love and admiration. I felt my actions were tough love, striving to offer a gift that would not only free me from this moment of tantrum but that might open doors for this privileged boy to enjoy the gifts of his life more fully. Contentment rose in me as I intuited that I had not over stepped the mark, as I so often do, and that I had honoured both his intelligence and vulnerability.
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With the wind to our back, mum, dad and myself walked slowly ahead, wondering what the reaction to this unexpected outburst would be. The lad stood still, blasted for a moment and then slowly followed, lost in thought. But something of the reluctance was gone.
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Although I felt I had been true to myself I was still concerned about how the parents would respond to my forceful ways. Could this be the end of our new friendship already?
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On arriving home just moments away, dad asked his son to recall the event, “Do you remember what happened on the beach back there? Do you remember what Peter said to you?
There was a pause and some kind of acknowledgment so dad continued “I agree with him and I want you to remember what was said and consider it.”
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I was relived to hear this, that our perspectives ran parallel and I was thanked for taking such an active role in their sons education. I don’t know what really happened for that lad, but we were closer after that.
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