Mindful Families Retreat: Day 2
[Follow-up on Day 1 Reflections]
Did you ever have a day that featured a camel, deep introspective discussion on technology and food, cow dung, garba dancing, an inspiring session from an amazing family, candle-light, silence, goats, and puppets? Impossible, right?
But all this and more were a part of the second day of the Mindful Families Retreat – I kid you not.
In the morning, the posse of children (who now move around as one, single entity), left with some parents and the Bhaiya-Didi gang to the village of Lilapur. (If you can see the silent hand of Jayesh-bhai and others at work in this, the answer is ‘yes’).
The parents who stayed behind had a Parenting Circle that was vigorous and inspiring. We talked about the challenges of technology and food. Both issues are contentious, there’s a ton of information about them out there, and most people tend to have deeply held views when it comes to dropping children into that unrelenting world of the use of technology and the consumption of fast food. Some interesting practices that emerged in the Circle:
- No television or screens of any kind when the children are babies or toddlers; then when they grow, they don’t expect it.
- ‘Rule 9’: at 9pm all devices (including those belonging to parents) be put away
- Naming the devices ‘the Devil'. So that you don’t have to fight with your kids, you say, playfully, “The Devil is sucking you in” and it becomes a family joke :)
- Giving them alternatives to screen-time with parents
- Working with grandparents, over time, over many ‘discussions’ so that they too realize (albeit not as deeply)
- Allowing some use, for educative or even fun reasons, but setting clear boundaries for that use. Or, allowing use only while travelling, or when a parent is well and truly exhausted (!)
- Explaining to the child about the positive and negative effects of screens. Showing them how their own behaviour changes with excessive use
- Eating mainly at home and not at restaurants or fast-food places
- Eating only when hungry
- Stopping or resting your hand or spoon between mouthfuls
- Our bodies know what is good for us, we just need to listen
- Health is an optimal state of functioning. Not a disease-free or ‘I’m ok now’ situation
- Do a prayer at every meal
- Eat things like ice-cream but in small amounts (to meet that initial desire)
The Super-Inspiring, Much-Loved Patel Family
With the kids still in Lilapur, this Circle was followed by one that was treasured by one and all. It will certainly go down as a BIG highlight of the Mindful Families Retreat. We had a long Q&A session with Jayesh-bhai, Anar-ben and….Sanskruti! The oldest child at the Retreat is 14, so it was especially great to have the twin perspectives of parents looking back at more than 20 years of parenting, and Sanskruti giving her insights.
There is much to be mined from their discussion, enough that it should be a separate blog. In lieu of a full transcript, here are some highlights:
“For many years I have only received from my parents. They taught me how to connect (deeply) with people. They are connected and yet know who they are. Registering, analysing all that they have given me (in terms of values) only happened at 16 when I moved to London.”
“Both my parents are very large personalities and also the grandparents on both sides. I always felt it would take an entire lifetime if I just copied even one of them. Our first love is our parents. To them I feel like the conversation between Ram and Hanuman, where Ram asks, “Who are you, oh monkey?” and Hanuman replies, “When I don’t know myself, I serve you. When I know who I am, I am you.””
“My parents have let me go. They have had the patience, and let me go on my journey.”
“I tell my parents, your love story is my favourite love story. It sets the bar very high.”
[Lessons for our children]“Let your children be. Don’t control or criticize them. My father just accepted me whatever I did or wore. Let your children make their mistakes their own. It becomes a bank to tap into. You can’t teach compassion and kindness, you have to experience it.”
“We never took any decisions on her behalf. She’s always wanted to do so many things and we have agreed and supported. Recently it has been fashion and now she’s becoming an actor.”
“Mistakes are allowed, learn from it, but don’t repeat them. She would come and own up to her mistakes; she may not know ‘why’ but she’d know it’s wrong.”
[On marriage] “We are different, but we share a solid love for Sanskruti. We’ve never criticized the other to her. We have always explained to her why each of us does what we do. Jayesh and my discussions have always been on ‘sanstha’ (institution-building), not the usual stuff. There is no possessiveness; we share what we learn, we are on our spiritual journeys. I have learnt that what and how we grow internally must be shared with each other.
“Kids make friends. They get friends from outside, but not parents. We need to care deeply (for the kids) from the inside. We have to be parents, not friends to them.”
“The word I’ve always used is ‘balance’ – in food, technology, everything.
When I close my eyes, my father’s image always comes in front. He’d say, safai ho ya puja-paat, dil se kare to, ek hee hai (whether cleaning toilets or doing prayers, if it’s done with the heart, it is one and the same.)
We are blessed by the Gandhi Ashram and the lineage. Trust and Love are big capitals (that we tap into.) Sabse unche, prem sadai.
Anar and I are like the banks of the same river. In the middle is the river of love, understanding and a desire to help the world.
“My role has always been how do I give with warmth? Not just light in the sunlight, but the warmth in the sunlight.”
Sahajta and saralta (effortlessness and simplicity) are two guides. They are enough.
“We have to just start surrendering. Have no pressure of the past, no fear of the future, just Love in the present.”
Camels, Silence and Dance
Just as this listening-learning Circle for the parents ended, the kids came back from Lilapur. And what a blast they had! Camel ride, spread cow-dung by hand, played with goats, fed cattle, ate roasted sweet potatoes – incredible experiences that most of them, as highly urban children had never done before.
And the day didn’t end there; the evening brought a beautiful silent dinner. The Bhaiya-Didi Gang had spent an hour or so setting up with such effort – flowers in heart shapes, rangoli designs on the floor, candles flickering gently. And everyone from the 1.5 year old to the 14 year old, to the parents all kept the quiet, and were so moved. Eating in silence brought the flavours of the food alive. Being served in silence brought out the sense of the love that went into every aspect of the occasion.
One would think a silent dinner would be enough…and it was. But there was more to come. Families dressed in traditional clothes and gathered together again. A wonderful dance troupe in bright blue and orange clothing came with big traditional drums and puppets. We had a show, incredible group dancing and….
….and the evening was not over yet (!) A bonfire appeared, as did a guitar and djembe, and four charpais to sit on. Old songs, new songs, in-tune and out….all belted out with much joy and teasing.
What a Day, What a Retreat it was. :)