I turned FIFTY years old 3 days ago on Dec 27, 2018.
When I held the birthday card from my wife and daughter in my hand, the big “50” jumped out at me.
I remembered being 19 or 20 and picking up a 50th b-day card and thinking that was so old. I couldn’t imagine myself there.
Most of the adults I knew seemed to be missing something. I remember that feeling very clearly. I was aware of this difference from very young. I think most kids are. I didn’t have a name for it, but I knew I didn’t want to lose it.
Partly because it seemed like a big loss to me. Every time an adult would assert authority of any kind I would see the loss in them. They thought they were above me.
On the one hand I ended up internalizing this mindset. Surrounded by it in my formative years I took it on as my own. That is why I have so many insecurities. Why it’s so hard for me to believe people like me. Even my closest of friends have to remind me that they like me and love me (Thank you for your patience!).
At the same time there was a part of me that saw the false hierarchical separation of value and worth that authority creates.
The thing about believing one is above others is that there will always be someone above you.
You are destined to be less than. So much of life is compensating for this “less than/greater than” mindset.
My desire to not lose this thing that I saw the adults had lost was also fueled by my thoughts of parenting. I didn’t want my kids to look at me and see that separation.
I wanted them to feel me with them. To know that I know. Or more accurately to know that I know that they know. This seemed so important to me, to maintain that feeling of deep equality with children. It has been one of the principle areas of my personal development efforts.
It is also a central theme in my parenting philosophy and practice. When I’m with kids I hold no authority over them. It is an attitude that creates trust very quickly.
When I was 20 and held that card in my hand I realized I didn’t want to inhabit the authority mindset that seemed inherent to being 50. I was determined not to let it get me!
My mother had a stroke last week and I’ve been feeling her mortality more clearly since. It’s pushing me.
I was going to say “It’s pushing me to…” but then so many things came to mind that I’m being pushed on, I realized it’s just pushing me.
My 75 year old mom, Shivani Patel has been teaching weekly self-empowerment workshops in a men’s prison for the past 6 years. In that time her 6 week program has become the most popular and sought after course in the institution. There is always a waiting list to take her course.
The institution psychologists and counselors recommend her workshops. Some even mandate the residents in their units to take the course.
They have never audited her course. They are responding purely to the effect they see when the residents complete it.
They leave there wanting a better life for themselves. They are self-motivated to find what is meaningful to them and pursue it. They believe in their own potential and are propelled by it.
Often when they walk in to the room they are skeptical. They slump down in their chairs with arms crossed or grabbing their crotch. Staring at my sweet little mother in silent challenge. Sometimes not so silent.
Almost without fail, after the first 20 minutes of listening to her talk, they are all sitting straight, leaning forward, engaged and interested.
By the end of 2 hours they’re in love. After the 6 weeks are over they would do anything for her. Many of these guys have been in and out of prisons for years. They have been through a lot of courses. They always say they’ve never experienced anything like her.
My nickname for my mom is “Little body, Big Spirit!” When she sits in front of those men she holds no authority over them. She is one with them and they feel it. She sees through their layers to the light within.
My mother has more trauma in her life than pretty much anyone I know. She’s quite weak right now due to the stroke so I’m staying over tonight to care for her. We just spent about 90 minutes talking and all these memories from her past came up.
She told me story after story. Things I’d never heard before. We were both in sort of a story telling trance.
She has witnessed and experienced more pain than I can conceive. Somehow she has avoided getting jaded. I don’t know how she did it. Even with her painful past she sees the men in front of her as whole and good, fully worthy of love, no matter what they’ve done.
They feel it and it awakens something in them.
I go in as a guest speaker on week four. I see these guys fumbling over themselves to be respectful to Shivani, to demonstrate their gratitude, to show their love.
It’s like they’ve never been seen before. And some of them argue with her. They assure her that they really are bad. She refuses to entertain it. She empathizes with them for feeling so, but her mindset doesn’t waver.
My mother teaches me about love through her example. Growing up she parented me often in a traditional manner. Yet she kept fighting it. She kept learning and growing. Even to this day she’s learning about life and about herself.
One story she told me was when she was recently in the hospital (she’s been in the hospital a lot in 2018), one nurse was thanking her for being so nice (cause that’s my mom!).
The nurse told her she’s so tired of being treated badly by people that she just shuts off. No matter how much care and empathy she gives, some people are just mean to her.
Now she starts out nice and if she’s not treated well she just does her job, but doesn’t connect.
My mom said she understood. It’s hard to be treated that way. It hurts the heart.
She then told her about her volunteer work:
“I do these prison workshops. 6 years every week. I’ve worked with hundreds of prisoners, as well as the security guards and staff… and in all that time I’ve never met a bad person.”
She says it, and she means it. This is the foundation of her course. It is what creates such a dramatic effect on the prisoners. The power of unconditional love and acceptance.
She does not tell them that they are bad. She does not tell them that they’re wrong. She doesn’t make them feel like they’re broken and they need to be fixed.
She sees them whole.
She also sees the layers of pain and fear covering their wholeness.
Seeing both she can point out the layers by pointing TO their wholeness. This is so different from pointing to the layers themselves.
From this place they feel safe and are willing to hear her, to try what she teaches and to be challenged by her. Even when she challenges them they feel loved for it.
The conscious parenting philosophy I teach is the exact same one she operates from in prison. We share the same mindset and philosophy. We discuss it every day.
If the non-punitive, non-wrongness, non-coercive, non-authoritative, collaborative, process focused, relationship focused, equal power-sharing and learning partner mindset works so well with prisoners that it’s the most recommended workshop by clinical professionals – it’s reasonable to think that it would likely be effective with children.
My mom often says that the Conscious Parenting principles I share will hopefully one day make her program obsolete.
When my daughter was born in 1997, just over 21 years ago, everyone I knew was parenting authoritatively. I had no models to follow. Even every family on TV parented from a hierarchical power structure.
I wanted no part of it.
From the beginning I worked hard to treat my daughter as an equal. I saw her wisdom as equal to mine. I always felt she had so much to teach me.
She truly has been my teacher. I learned many profound lessons from her when she was a child. I learned play, curiosity, exploration and finding wonder and joy in the simplest of things.
I wanted her to feel seen like I rarely did as a child. I wanted to meet her where she was. Kids live in their own universes. So often parents try to drag, coerce or convince kids to operate from the adult universe. I wanted to be in her universe. I knew in order to do that I had to really open my heart to my child like energy.
This is one of the greatest gifts I have received as a parent. It stays with me to this day.
Just this afternoon as I entered the lobby of my mom’s building there were three kids with their dad by the elevators. They were yelling and laughing.
They were trying to guess which elevator would open. Without a moments hesitation I jumped in with them and proclaimed that I thought it would be the middle one. The youngest kid was with me and she yelled “YA! the middle one!”
I was so excited to be in on the game that the kids accepted me as one of their own. We waited in anticipation and the older brother’s elevator on the right won. The rest of us were groaning and moaning and laughing as we piled into the elevator.
The young sister had a big happy face ball. She said she won it. She bounced it and I kicked it back to her. It went all over the elevator and everyone laughed again.
They got off at the third floor all saying “bye bye bye!” The dad had such a smile on his face as he exited the elevator. He was a bit confused, but in a connected happy way.
The whole interaction from beginning to end was probably not 5 minutes, but it was so full of joy and play. At that moment I felt grateful to my kid for that gift and I felt quite happy to be 50 and be me.
When I think about 20 year old Vivek holding that birthday card, he didn’t want to get old because he so wanted to believe in the Magic of Play and Love. As I settle into my 50th year I can confidently tell him that both are real and worth chasing!
Happy birthday to me!
Thank you for reading <3
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