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The Child Project | Somersaults


Listen to the tree.
It will tell you where it wants to go.
– John Naka


The last week of The Conscious Parent curriculum is entitled, Boundaries & Bonsai. If one wanted to sum up the essence of growing bonsai in two words, those words most likely would be mindfulness and collaboration. Brought to bear in the right measure, these two produce inspired and beautiful results. Cultivating these fascinating and demanding works of living art is, in many ways, not unlike the sort of cultivating that conscious parents provide their children—and not only during the tender years, but also through teenage development and into adulthood. Let’s look at these two essential practices:

When we’re mindful, we’re present, still, attentive, observing and listening, and more interested in being open and receptive than in “transmitting.” It is the natural stance of the student, including the student of life and experience, at any age and in or out of any formal school. Where a concerned parent might lecture his or her child in order to mold the child’s psyche, the conscious parent will look for and notice details that provide a clear understanding of the child’s psyche. Too often, parents rush into transactions with their kids based on preconceived notions and well-meaning agendas that take many things into account while overlooking the child’s reality—then they wonder why their words have no impact. Until we’re willing to set aside even our preconceptions, agendas, and timetables in favor of meeting our child in the mysterious moment at hand in order to see and hear and empathize with his or her predicament and needs, collaboration is not possible.

When we collaborate, we work with rather than against. In matters of parenting, this means that, having been mindful in our engagements with our child, having been willing to be a student and learn how things stand, here and now, in our child’s experience, we can meet our child in a place of encouragement and respectful guidance. A child’s character is shaped not by force but by example, not through coercion but through inspiration, and most of all though the parent learning to speak the child’s language, even as this language evolves through the various stages of development.

One of the most important messages in The Conscious Parent is the idea that we can excel as parents only by practicing those principles and skills that allow us to excel as people. We meet our children, in a profound, microcosmic staging of how we meet life in general. Heavyhanded parents are heavyhanded people. Parents who take the time to be mindful and to collaborate with their child’s nature, temperament, and timing, are people who tend to be mindful and to collaborate with others in all their relationships. The great depth of love we have for our children amplifies and brings into relief those aspects of our character that have evolved and matured into something beautiful, we might even say artistic, as well as those aspects where we still have work to do on ourselves. It is hard to imagine any human involvement that does a better job than parenting of holding up the mirror.

We may have strong feelings that will prompt us to use force, to exert our will, to dictate to our children what they must do or not do. It should be a sobering thought that, when we do this, even in those cases where we are “right,” the method is wrong. When someone is shouting, the natural response is to cover our ears. When someone pushes us, the natural response is to withdraw or push back. There is no situation, no problem, no parent-child impasse that cannot be dissolved and resolved through diligently, steadily, lovingly applying the practices of mindfulness and collaboration. The tree knows innately how it wants and needs to grow. This innate knowledge is “caught” and honored by the bonsai artist. It is the same with our children. They have their own, inner directions. They are ours to influence but not to control. So it is with trees and children and all living things in this world.

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