The lightness of being

Essay

How embracing simple, mindful frugality can enlighten your parenting journey.

The modern hustler

“Simple things are always the hardest”, that is one of the foundational truths of a beautiful, holistic Chinese philosophy of Tao (pronounced: “Dow”), which praises living with goodness, serenity and respect. It does ring true. As we are born, we all have to take the first baby steps to learn simple yet difficult things: smiling, eating solids, walking, and talking. Later in life, we start to take these teachings for granted. This is a process, which can be called ‘un-learning’. We lose the flexibility of our bodies after years of unhealthy body position, we forget about intuitive eating and natural breathing, as we become busy with hustling. As Jessika Hepburn, an American writer, insightfully observes, “Modern hustle implies the world is a place of scarcity and struggle, so you have to work harder and fiercer than anyone else to get anything you want.”

Yet, what our bodies and minds need is pretty rudimental – just as this little, inspiring story from the sacred Taoist text Tao Te Ching. It describes a meeting between a new student and a master. “Dear Master, how do you practise Tao?” – the student asks eagerly. “When you are hungry, eat. When you are tired, sleep.” the old sage answers simply. Yet the young disciple is not satisfied – he expects a more profound teaching. “But dear Master, isn’t that what everyone does anyway?” he continues. “No,” says the Master, “Most people feed themselves with thousands of desires when they eat; and dream of thousands of designs when they sleep.”

Isn’t this story true? As humans, we yearn for simplicity, but cannot seem to hold onto it for long. We ache for presence, but we get distracted by too many life pursuits: working, blogging, emailing, running, shopping, and wanting, always wanting more. Yet this drive to conquer, attain and possess comes at a great cost to our souls, and to the world that we live in. We feel depleted and anxious, using much more resources than necessary to support our action-fuelled lives.

“Manifest plainness,
Embrace simplicity.
Put others first.
Desire little.”

Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

The greatest teachers

And then, in the midst of life hustling, we become parents. For most people, having kids is a huge spiritual awakening. Babies really don’t need much from our consumerist world – just their parents’ love, touch, the music of their voice, and the warmth of their skin. They force us to put down our parenting guides, our expensive baby gear, and invite us to just be. This can be a journey of mindful austerity, but without the scarcity mindset.

Being present and conscious – let’s call it b e i n g n e s s – is the greatest gift we can offer to our kids. And the returns are beyond amazing. “Many of us subscribe to the belief that spiritual growth happens as a result of daily meditation, mindfulness retreats, and inspiration from wise luminaries. But one of the greatest teachers you could ever hope to learn from is living right under your roof, even if (especially if) he or she pushes your buttons or challenges your limitations.” Susan Stiffelman writes in her enlightening book Parenting with Presence.  

As I discovered myself, the greatest joy of mindful, conscious parenting is putting the brakes on doing and becoming experts at simply being. How to achieve that? By simplifying our lives, mellowing our expectations and then – importantly – also by realising that we are all a part of a larger scheme of things: our family, local community, hometown, society, and our planet. It is a scientifically proven fact that humans share about 50% of our genes with plants (including bananas). We are truly one big Earth family!

World of wonder

Being a mindful parent is very closely related to practising eco-responsibility. “The climate crisis is a parenting problem,” writes Mary DeMocker in her brilliant book The Parents’ Guide to Climate Revolution: 100 Ways to Build a Fossil-Free Future, Raise Empowered Kids, and Still Get a Good Night’s Sleep. She recommends equipping our children with the most comprehensive knowledge, a brave attitude and an activist mind. “Living green is good, but only through the community activism we can save our climate. Teach your kids and yourself the joys of reusing, re-loving, upcycling, and recycling, but also make them actively fight for our planet.” she insists.

“What if you woke up one morning and had the chance to change the world – while still in your pyjamas? Well, that is what happened to Clara!”this is the introduction to a children’s book Clara and The Climate Changer written by Katarina Wallentin, a Stockholm-based author and activist. It tells the tale of 9-year-old Clara, who embarks on a quest to restore the Earth’s tainted beauty after meeting a disgruntled polar-bear, sick of rising waters and diminishing fish. How to practise being an eco-conscious parent? “We should just constantly remind ourselves, and our kids, that we are living in a world of wonder. Encourage gratitude and appreciation for what we have”, says Wallentin.

So let this ode to beingness be an invitation to the beauty of simple, conscious living, which makes us better parents and community members, as well as more responsible inhabitants of the Earth.

Published originally in Mindful Parenting, the first Australian magazine for conscious parents, Issue 1, July 2019.