Two things happened today that have focused my thoughts on how much we learn from trial and error. First, my daughter and her rocket. It took her ages to build. She glued two cardboard toilet paper rolls together, formed a cone for the top out of paper and added some windows and foil embellishments. After painstakingly making a stand for it out of cardboard and getting the matches, she was ready for lift-off. We took it outside, lit the matches and waited. Things started to happen. We heard popping noises. The matches lit and the rocket began to shake. But it wasn’t going according to plan. Flames licked up the sides of the rocket and within minutes there was nothing left of her hard work but a pile of ash.
Later, we visited with a friend who has recently become a mother to two young children. In our discussions she laughingly commented, “I just wish that we’d been able to go on a course or something before becoming parents, so we’d know how to do it!”
I laughed along with her, because we both recognised the absurdity of the idea that you could actually learn anything about parenting before becoming parents. Being a parent is all about on-the-job training. Books might give ideas, grandmothers might offer advice, the internet has a wealth of information– but the only way to get to grips with how to parent is to actually do it. In much the same way I could have told Iona that making a rocket out of a flammable substance (cardboard) meant that it would probably catch on fire. But she needed to make her own mistakes, to take her own chances, to find out whether her methods would work for her own project.
This sort of experiential learning cannot be duplicated through lecture-style teaching. I could turn up to my Wednesday night Yoga class and tell my students the theory behind Warrior I, but until they’ve actually practised it, they will be unaware of the expansive, uplifting beauty of this posture. Until they’ve lifted their arms up overhead, they may not be aware of tightness in their shoulders. Only when they lift their eyes to the sky will they realise that they’ve been looking down all day.
When I first began practising Yoga, I really wanted to do it ‘right.’ I wanted to practise postures like my teacher, and when my body wouldn’t let me, I felt awkward and cross. Now, many years later, I see that the important thing is not what you look like, but how you got there. Forget the result. It’s the journey that’s key.
We learn so much about ourselves and our children simply by living from day to day, in the here and now. We try something that makes things worse rather than better, we overlook the obvious, we mess up, we say the wrong thing, we apologise and life keeps going. Many mothers, myself included, wish we could do it better, that we could be more patient, kinder, more organised, better at keeping on top of the housework or school work or paid work. We want our day to day lives to reflect the love we feel for our children, and sometimes other mothers seem to be doing it better. We want to be like them, and when we struggle we feel frustrated and cross. We have an idea of the results we want, and when we don’t get there, it’s easy to beat ourselves up and to take on the mantle of the ‘Bad Mother.’
What would parenting be like if the focus was on the journey? What if the result was irrelevant, and we focused on the now? What if our eyes were focused on this moment, rather than on the other mother who appears to be doing it ‘better’? What if we went to bed remembering what went well, rather than what didn’t? What if we took a deep breath here, in this very moment, and let go of what should be happening, and accepted what is happening? What if we took a good look at ourselves and recognised growth, beauty, truth, potential?
This is my practice. Will you make it yours?