Why This Book?
Over the years, many friends and acquaintances have asked me to write down my ideas regarding children, especially in terms of helping them to open up to their own spiritual nature, but also in the more practical areas of life. I was somewhat at a loss of how to go about such a task. Mundane things can be described and then duplicated by others, but family life is much more complex and involves what each parent brings to the mix, along with the individuality of each child. And then there is the sensitive matter of bringing spirituality into this “custom blend” that makes up each and every family.
True spiritual development must not only address each person’s relationship with God within, but also in how we express ourselves in the “cold light of day.” So, a parent can seek to develop his or her own personal love of God, or the Infinite Light, and then learn to share this inner life with one’s children in ways appropriate to their ages and temperaments. A natural extension of the process would then be to find ways to radiate the fruits of this inner love for God with those around us, and throughout the world. As the child matures into adulthood he or she must then decide what of this has been of true value, and what will thus be further developed.
So, that is it in a nutshell, but what does it look like day to day? In this book I can share that journey for us as a family through the past many years. Perhaps you the reader will find things that you can glean from the pages and apply in your own life.
My husband, Tim, and I were married in 1978 and moved to Ananda Village in Nevada City, CA. (Ananda is an intentional spiritual community, and has many branch communities and centers throughout the world. Swami Kriyananda, a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda, founded Ananda in 1968.) Our daughter, Krishnabai, was born in 1979, and two sons followed her, Peter and David, born in 1984 and 1992, respectively. Did you notice there was one little prize for each decade? But really the span is only thirteen years. So, our family life has been more prolonged than the typical family these days, and this has given us lots of time to deal with many parenting issues and challenges.
For many years we chose to live simply and close to nature, and with very few modern conveniences. This was during America’s “back to the land” era and that general mood helped in the forming of Ananda Village. There was a sense of adventure to seeing how little one actually needed. Tim and I had lived on a homestead before moving to Ananda, so we fit right in. It takes special people to think it makes sense to move to some rural area that has seemingly no economic base and say, “Let’s spend our lives here, seeking God!” Mind you, very few of us had any savings or inheritance to bankroll the lifestyle. There were many adventures, challenges and joys, as well as extraordinary accomplishments. The first phase of our parenting experience happened in that environment.
We still have an orchard and garden, plus ducks and chickens, but we are also now fully equipped with appliances, computers and cell phones, etc. This happened gradually, but consciously, being aware that each convenience can also be a trade-off. It is far easier to set limits on electronic media when you don’t even have electricity! There is a certain quiet and calm to a home with no phones or electricity, but precious as it was, that phase only lasted a few years. Even so, because we so valued the gifts of that time period, and wanted to preserve what we could, we found ways to limit media exposure to a reasonable amount and this has been very worthwhile. So, through it all, we have strived to bring out the idealism and spirituality in our children, and it has been a wonderful discovery process along the way.
When I was a young mother I would have very much appreciated a book such as this one. My friends and I were all in the same boat We, like many baby boomers, had rejected the external trappings of the religions of our youth, however, we were now pursuing a depth of spirituality that went far beyond what we had been given as children in those religions. Of course, that is not totally fair, because within every true religion one can find the seeds that could lead to great spiritual wealth, as exemplified by various saints, sages, and prophets. However, our training in those religions did not succeed in fully awakening those seeds in us, and thus we sought something more. Or, one might also say that the seeds of spiritual longing had been well awakened in us, but no one really knew how to water those seeds fully, until we found hidden treasure in the spiritual classic Autobiography of A Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda.
So, we had left behind the religions of our youth and now were seeking God ever more fully through the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda. The core of his teachings is to help one to experience God’s presence within, until one is united with that supreme holiness, light, joy. He also came to show the oneness of original Christianity and original yoga. “The time for knowing God has come!” To make his point he would say that modern Christianity too often looks like what might be called churchianity. Of what use are forms and rituals if they are but empty husks? On the other hand, if a ritual gives us hope and encouragement in reminding us to seek God’s presence, then it is of deep value.
So we had left the old for something newer, and hopefully better, and indeed it has proven to be so for a great many of us. But when so many old forms are left behind, there remains the question of how do we explore this “new ground” and share it with our children? How much is “too much” and what is not enough, and what is “just right”? That will vary with each child and circumstance, but there are some basics that can be shared with any child. We are still learning.
This book explores some of that journey of discovery. How would I have used such a book if I had found it when my children were young? I would have treasured the opportunity to get a glimpse of a mother who had walked ahead of me, so that I could learn from her discoveries and successes, and also her wisdom garnered from mistakes. And yet, I would only then adopt in my own life whatever seemed applicable to my own family at that time. Even making one or two important spiritual habits in your family life will have a profound effect on your children and will let them know that you place great value on that inner journey toward the Light. If you are able to do more, then that is wonderful! But do be mindful that God is within, and therefore it is really a deeply personal matter, and we thus we must tend the child’s inner life with care and sensitivity. But, if out of this respect we don’t tend to the child’s inner life at all, we do him a great disservice, for, from the child’s point of view, by giving the spiritual life no energy, we seem to place no value on it, and thus leave it only to chance. It is a rare child indeed who needs no help, guidance or care in the nurturing of his inner soul quality.
Sometimes it is simply refreshing to compare notes with other mothers who are attempting to raise their children in an idealistic manner. So, I offer this journey in that light. We are who we are, and we try to improve ourselves along the way, but our children don’t wait for our perfection to fully manifest before they arrive! They come to us as we are. So do be loving and patient with yourself, and know that the sincere attempt to be a good parent gives your child innumerable blessings for body, mind and soul.