City of the Mind
The Internet hadn’t yet been invented when our older two kids were school age, and even once it was available, it took a while before we embraced that technology. But David was born in 1992, and we were well equipped by the time he was nine years old. This is when he got an introduction to spam e-mail pornography. Yikes! He was playing at a friend’s house and they decided to check e-mail. Luckily, the boy’s mom walked through the room just as a horrible hard porn picture opened up. (The family didn’t yet know about spam filters, etc.) Their computer is in a nook in a large hallway, so it was natural for her to walk past the boys as they sat there. She quickly shut it down and talked to the boys. From their reaction to the whole thing, we believe it was their first exposure to anything of the sort.
It’s very good that their computer was in a public area of the house, as it helps in cases like this. Our home office is a little room that is completely visible from the kitchen, and this is where the kids use the Internet. Similarly, another family at Ananda has a computer with Internet access in their home office. Previously, they had let the teen son have Internet access in his bedroom, but later realized it was a mistake. These things help immensely, along with any of the commercially available blockers. But I wouldn’t leave it to technology alone to protect my kids. The aura of parental involvement is most helpful.
When I was later informed of what had happened, I sat down to talk with David. I remained calm, which is not always easy for a mother when childhood innocence is affronted! But I didn’t want to alarm him. He already felt quite awkward about it, and it took a little bit of work to find a way to approach the matter. I kept in mind his young age, yet also had to address the hard-core pornography he had seen. As we talked, I realized it helped David to know that there was a specific name, “pornography”, for this type of thing. Then it didn’t feel like such a random attack; one can recognize pornography and choose to avoid it. But, for kids in the computer age, this sense of self must be strong enough to resist temptations that may present themselves very quickly. I found it helpful to simply tell David a story, and weave things into the discussion that way.
I reminded him that when Mom and Dad were his age, there were no computers, and thus no Internet in the home. And yes, there was pornography, but we didn’t know about it at his age. I recalled my daily walk to junior high school, which was downtown. It was a fairly small, safe city, and we kids were allowed to meander about and stop for pizza after school, etc. But my mother forbad us to ever go into a certain little store near the bridge over the river…She wouldn’t say why at first. Of course, that made us more curious. We would say, “They just sell candy and cigarettes and newspapers!’ because that is what we could see from the door… but her tone warned us she was serious about it, and that was final. So, all we had to do was walk by, and never go in. It’s not as though the store would do a surprise attack on us, or something! But later on, in high school, a bunch of us did go in once. By then we were aware that porn magazines were sold there, but we weren’t interested or curious about those, really. But one girl, especially, wanted to throw off the chains of parental authority on this issue saying, “They’re just magazines! We shouldn’t be afraid to go in.” (They had also been warned when they were kids.). Actually, even though I was often a ring leader with my friends, and usually one who kept things lively, I didn’t really care to go in there. It felt creepy somehow; and looking back, I realize I was sensitive to the lower vibrations emanating from the place. We only stayed a few minutes while the girl bought candy, and then decided we didn’t need to go there again.
I told David that a person had to make a point of it to see porn in those days. You had to go into a creepy store, and sometimes you had to go to a creepy part of town. (I was playing this part up for contrast) So there was a big decision, a choice to do that. It didn’t just spring out at you. But now the Internet is everywhere. It is like having the whole city right there in your home! And in that Internet city there are many stores and neighborhoods, just like in a real city. Some of those these things will make you feel good about yourself, and some will not. Some people want to bring your mind down to their own dark level, to give themselves company, and to get your money.
In a big city, there will be a few little porn shops, but there will also be beautiful art museums. Both involve pictures of the naked body. And yet they are worlds apart. Beautiful art, on the one hand, conveys a certain nobility of spirit, and helps you appreciate the magic and beauty of God’s creation, and the higher nature enwrapped in the human form.
Porn, on the other hand is made to pull the mind down to lust. It does not inspire love. (In fact, studies have shown that when the average man sees even soft porn, his love for his wife decreases. Why? The grass looks way greener… but I didn’t mention this little tidbit to David. At age nine he was too young…) Porn is damaging for girls because it increases the belief in them that the only way to attract and hold a man is through appealing to his lust. This attitude seems much more prevalent these days in younger girls; probably a direct outcome of the many forms of media promoting the concept.
I also told David that, in the ‘old days’, people had to travel far to do any serious gambling. People would fly across the country to go to Las Vegas and gamble. So, at least they knew they were making that definite choice! It didn’t just spring up on them while they were in their home But now there are ads on the Internet…
At this David really lit up, and got the point. “Yeah! I hate those ads! They come up when I go to NBA.com to check basketball scores, and they make me want to get all that money!”
Yes, I told him, that is how many people feel, but some people don’t know how to stop and they lose everything. I know people who have lost their homes and all their savings, and this then ruins their family life. So they’ve lost everything. It’s best to not even get started…There are other ways to make money!
So, you can see, that the “City” is really not only in your computer; it is in your MIND. You are the king of that city, and you need to decide what you will allow into the city of your mind. Will it be things that remind you of God’s magic and beauty in life and nature? Or will it be things that take you down? That’s the big choice we all need to make in life. And every day, we get a chance to make little choices that strengthen our big choice in life. One little mistake is not the problem, but if it starts a habit of bad little choices, it takes your life in that direction.
David seemed at peace with all of this, but he didn’t say much, which is fairly typical for him. Several weeks later we all went to King’s Canyon (near Yosemite) for a family vacation. The scenery and giant sequoia were wonderful. But it seemed odd that David wanted to investigate the books at every park gift store. I finally said, “Instead of looking at all these books about nature, why don’t we just go outside and see the real banana?” (That suggestion had very little effect on him, in case you were wondering.)
Finally, on the last day, Tim suggested that David and I go on a guided bird walk, while Tim and Peter packed up camp. Wow! What a treat to know that I didn’t have to help break camp! So we were with the ornithologist at a beautiful lake in the park, and I was amazed at how interested David was in everything he had to say. I then suggested to David, “Stay right near that biologist, and you’ll learn a lot.” So he did. David’s attention span for bird watching far exceeded my own, which I thought was remarkable, given his age. It was a wonderful morning. On our way out of the park, we stopped for gas and supplies, and yes, one last visit to the park store. This time David was sure what he wanted: a book on birds! So we got it, and this opened up an avid interest in bird watching and also raising birds.
Once we were home, David and I were talking about our trip to King’s Canyon, and I mentioned how he had kept looking at the books, but couldn’t decide which one to get…He replied, “Yes… I had made up my mind that I wanted to study nature, but I didn’t know where to start… Should it be the stars, or flowers, or trees, or birds or animals? Finally I decided on birds.”
So there it is again – the two sides of motherhood, as I mentioned in the first chapter. By applying sufficient energy to respond to something ugly (the porn incident, and the need to choose what goes into our minds), something beautiful (David’s interest in studying nature) had come of it.
David’s interest in nature continued. He has about 135 birds on his “life list” and he has had great fun raising pet ducks. When his pet mallards were first learning to fly, I told him how much I appreciate having his pets into our lives. I told him that it makes me happy to see them learn to fly. He replied, “Yes…that’s why I like birds…(he was really struggling now for the right words)…When I see them take off…they are lifting up into the sky, and that reminds me…of…God….”
I don’t think I’d ever heard him use the word “God” in conversation before, so this struck me very much. Even he seemed a little surprised at his disclosure…but I knew what he meant. I especially felt this watching the ducks learn to fly. What an amazing feeling! They are part of our family and yet they FLY! The first time they came in for a landing after a 10-minute flight, we all applauded them. I felt like a proud mama, after her child hits a home run. These little ducks had learned all of this from a combo of instinct and experimentation. Oh, I could go on about the joy of raising ducks, but perhaps I’ll include that in a chapter about pets in family life.
And finally, as I write this chapter, two years later, his interest in nature has deepened. He is now studying wild plants, sparked by his fascination with the Lewis and Clark Expedition. More on that in a chapter on storytelling and heroes!
“A tiny bubble of laughter, I am become the sea of mirth itself!”
—Poem, “Samadhi” by Paramhansa Yogananda