Leaning into Change

When we are asked to change something, we’re likely to encounter a number of feelings: fear and anger are undoubtedly among them. But we may recognize that in the course of our lives we encounter or are asked to change a number of things which, sometimes, without even thinking, we do on a daily basis.

We change clothes – sometimes several times a day. Like it or not, we must change our child’s diapers. We change lanes driving the highway. We change our clocks back and forth each year. We live in the rhythms of the changing weather and the seasons. And, at times, we are aware that our feelings change by the second.

I wonder as I sit with this brief list of changes, among all the others which are now floating across the screen of my mind, what difference there is in my response, and therefore my resistance, to changes which are external (lane changes, which shirt to wear today, etc.) and those which are internal (what is my fear asking of me, do I need to alter my vocation, etc.). My sense of my own varying responses is that there are far deeper feelings about those inner questions of change; feelings that are so much more connected to my sense of myself, my purpose and meaning, and my hope that I do not yet know.

These “invitations” to change or consider change seem to threaten what I have put in place to keep things “ok” – whatever that means – such that I am once again faced with my inability (read: lack of control) to set a course which will not steer me into uncharted waters.

I recognize that this is the territory of fear. Anytime I am entertaining a need to control something/someone, I am now aware that I am feeling fear. It may not be the thing/person I am trying to control, but there is fear in the air. So invitations to change present me with a threshold to cross; a doorway into new space that holds something new which I do not yet know or see.

If I view ALL my fear as “bad”, then I learn to steer clear or avoid these doorways, and I’m aware of a lot of energy I’ve spent avoiding those places in which I have been asked to enter unknown space. But as the years pass, I have – gladly – begun to recognize that the “gift of fear” is learning to pay attention; to be alert, not so much vigilance, but open awareness: actually look for something new, rather than looking out for what to avoid.

I suppose this speaks to a posture, posture of leaning. The recognition I’m speaking of here is a directional one; one that asks me to be aware of which direction I am leaning toward the ceaseless invitations around change. My work then, as I sense it is for all of us, is to note which way I am leaning: leaning away from, or in to?

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Remembering and Letting Go…

As we consider all the ways in which our lives present this question of Letting Go, we can find that we’re either open to it, or resistant to it.  There is no doubt that what Letting Go asks of us is difficult!  We have been investing in the care and nurture and success of our children since before they were born; AND, we are confronted with myriad examples of ways to let go of our attachments to them from their earlier years.  We let go of their hands when they learn to walk, we release our grip on the back of the seat when they learn to ride a bike, we wave goodbye as they walk into school for the first time; the list is nearly endless.

I remember when my own adult daughter left the country for six months on a work assignment.  I was faced again with this question: “How am I holding on in ways that could hold both of us from the truth and beauty of what lies ahead?

So as I came to the reading of the blog post today, I was struck, again, by the beautiful and excruciating truth of the on-going process.  I’m grateful for the vulnerability offered here by Christine Cleary as she remembers what was, while letting it go in order to be fully present to both the sadness and gladness of what now is.

I’m hopeful that Christine’s words help craft this conversation in new ways for each of you.

Peace for your journey, Dane

http://www.onbeing.org/blog/christine-cleary-the-sweet-tension-of-remembering-and-letting-go/7996

The Heart Stays Open ~

“God breaks the heart again and again until it stays open.”
Hazrat Inayat Khan

I am struck by this statement.  I knew it once only by assertion, but was then taught by life to know it deeply through experience.  We are, especially as parents, regularly “invited” to this vulnerable place – this place of offering our heart again and again.

I am grateful for the insight Laura Kelly Fanucci lays out before us here in the endless invitation to offer our open hearts…

Blessings on the Journey!  Dane

http://www.onbeing.org/blog/until-the-heart-stays-open/7522?utm_source=On+Being+Newsletter&utm_campaign=8601cff829-20150704_bela_fleck_Newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1c66543c2f-8601cff829-69848605#.VZkt20o8KrX.

Peace for the Journey…

Endbeginnings –

In clear simplicity, Dr. Rachel Remen talks about her own realization that, “there is no ending without a beginning. That beginnings and endings are always right up against each other.  Nothing ever ends without something else beginning or begins without something else ending.  Perhaps this would be easier to remember if we had a word for it.  Something like “endbegin,” or “beginend.”

So, here we are looking eye-to-eye with the “endbegin” or “beginend” of our daughter or son beginning the college journey.  I know from my own experience as a parent of a new student that this time led to feelings I wasn’t sure what to do with.  I’m confident I said some things, or didn’t say others because I didn’t exactly know what to do with what seemed the awkward end, or was it the beginning?

For many of us, this is uncharted territory — be it our first child going away, or maybe out last. What would you call this time? Are you fighting an ending?  I’d encourage you to ask your daughter/son how they see or feel about the endbegin – to see it through her/his eyes could be a beginend!

Peace, Dane.

Learning to Fail

I re-post this entry every year.  The posting has, to date, received more “likes” and comments than any other, so I sense that what I set out to say hit its target.  So for those of you who have recently marched through high school graduation activities and are on the threshold of this process, I’m hopeful that this message will have a “centering effect” for all of us seeking to be successful in parenting our kids well!

As we take a serious look at the transition, my sense is that one of the primary issues for us as parents is the fear of something we can’t imagine actually happening to our daughter or son.  Our culture is bent on the pursuit of success.  So, if that is true – and I’m convinced it is – the idea of failure is often one that we expend a lot of energy trying to avoid and helping others avoid, especially those we care deeply for.

In my First-Year Seminar course for new Freshman, we would spend an entire class period exploring the idea of “Failure” in order to expand our thinking about what it is, why it’s scary, and what we’re really afraid of – why have we been taught to avoid something that’s likely inevitable, and is actually a helpful component of the learning process?  A number of the resources we use introduce us to how necessary (read: “vital”) failure is to reaching success; no matter the topic or pursuit.  I know, it sounds counter-intuitive, but when I examine my own path, I know – and I mean, REALLY know – that it is true.  Rarely do I learn some valuable piece of instruction or awareness for life when things are going well, frankly because I’m not forced or called or required to pay attention as I do when things aren’t going as planned.

It is only when things don’t work; when I’ve gone from Plan A to B, then C, then D, that I begin to ask the hard, searching questions that lead me to new insight, or to ask for help, or start over.  I’m reminded of the great inventor, Thomas Edison.  He’s famous as much for what he created as he is for putting a new perspective on the idea of “failure.”  He believed it was essential in his pursuit of the next great discovery.  He is quoted as saying such things as, “Negative results are just what I want.  They’re just as valuable to me as positive results.  I can never find the thing that does the job best until I find the ones that don’t.”  And, “I have not failed.  I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Alison Gopnik, a psychology and philosophy professor, points out that many of us now approach the role of raising humans like carpenters. In short, we try to carve them into our own image of what a successful adult looks like. Her suggestion? Think of yourself more akin to a gardener — you create the right conditions and let nature do the rest. “Our job as parents is not to make a particular kind of child,” she writes in her recent book, The Gardener and the Carpenter. “Instead, our job is to provide a protected space of love, safety, and stability in which children can flourish.”

So as I was recently reading Anne Lamott’s new book, Some Assembly Required (Riverhead books, 2012), in which she and her son co-write about the parent-child relational transition in ways only Anne can do, I heard her speaking directly to our parental desire to – with the greatest of intentions and hope – keep our children from getting hurt.  In doing so, we, in essence, may be keeping them from experiencing life (read: failing) in ways that prepare them for the very life they are meant to live.  Her good friend Bonnie says to her, “You’ve got to learn to let go and let your children fall, and fail.  If you try to protect them from hurt, and always rush to their side with Band-Aids, they won’t learn about life and what is true, what works, what helps, and what are real consequences of certain kinds of behavior.  When they do get hurt, which they will, they won’t know how to take care of their grown selves.  They won’t even know where the aspirin is kept.”

So, in keeping with our on-going conversation about how to “show-up” well in this relational transition with our daughter and sons as they become the humans they came here to BE, take a time-out to examine your motives for comments, actions, and the like!  Are they designed to express your agenda for how your children’s life “should be”, or are they oriented toward your daughter’s/son’s ever-developing (and necessary) sense of self-competency.

I’ll let Anne’s son Sam, usher us out today with one of his growing realizations about the life he was living – I can’t say it more clearly!: “I see the hardest patches as stepping stones for what I will need as I go out from here.”

Peace for the Journey, Dane

What I wish someone had told me….

I recognize that at this point in the college transition process, there are questions that parents have, and there are questions that students have.  Some of those questions overlap and some are inherently different.

While I typically address the questions parents may be asking, I sensed it might be helpful for parents to hear with their students about the questions that some rising freshman may not yet know how to articulate. Many of these questions are around core identity issues, such as; will I make friends, will I do OK academically, will I miss home, and the like.

So, I asked several of the students in the First Year Seminar course I teach what they wish someone would have told them.  I’m hopeful that this help you begin to articulate what you hope for and wonder about.

Peace, Dane

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Transitioning to college is certainly an uneasy time. There are many mixed emotions including nervousness, excitement, and confusion. I wish I had known that college work is not a scary beast that is impossible to tame. If a student allots the proper amount of time to calmly complete an assignment, the school work is easily manageable. Also, I wish I had known that being so far away from home is really not scary, it is freeing. While there may be moments of homesickness, the precious time spent with loved ones is that much more cherished after having been away.   Julienne

I wasn’t worried about the grades since I felt motivated that what I would be doing in college would be more relevant to what I want to pursue. However I will say freshman year there will have to be some pointless classes you have to get out of the way ( not FYS of course ) but staying inspired in the courses that are relevant to you is critical! On a more personal note, dealing with a relationship entering college is going to be much different, the people, the place and sometimes people change and they come or go from your life as was the case with me. Things will change and people will be out of your life but so is the way of this world and all that can come from it is another way to connect with another soul. It’s a chapter and they should be excited! Don’t worry about what you can’t control and don’t take for granted where you are.   Nick

Most of my questions revolved around how to get involved but not get overwhelmed. It is an entirely new experience that we cannot ever fully prepare for. Once I realized that I could focus on what I wanted and not only making the best for my future but also for now I was a lot more relaxed. I learned that it is okay to sit in my room for a day if I don’t feel like forcing myself to meet new people and it is also ok to try and get to know others. You have to figure out what interests you and what is the right process. Even following your own study habits becomes easier.

I didn’t know what the workload would be like. It is very different than past years of school. Our schedules are more spread out, we are held responsible for getting our work in, there isn’t daily homework but teachers don’t leave you out on a limb. They generally remind you when something big is coming up and help you make the most of the work you do, instead of a bunch of busy work. While it is more challenging, the way it is approached makes it a lot easier than I had anticipated. It isn’t as bad as high school teachers lead us to believe when they say they are “preparing you.” AP classes felt like torture but they aren’t pointless, they make college seem a billion times easier.

Most of what I had been worried about as far as technical stuff was concerned (finding my classes, registration etc) was addressed. It isn’t hard to find someone willing to help direct a lost freshman or answer questions. It is the more personal things that can be troublesome.  Monica

Before college I had a huge concern about keeping up with the workload. I was an honor student in high school, but I wasn’t sure if that would translate to college. So, something that the high school students might like to know is that college can be challenging, but it is very much manageable. Although things may seemed overwhelming at first, I found a way to manage my time properly so that I had fun, but I got my work done without getting too stressed about it (by prioritizing and not having too much fun, but knowing when I need to work instead of hangout with my friends…)   Also, they are probably concerned about making friends as I was. However, I discovered that there’s a place for everybody and you don’t have to try hard to find it, because it will find you.   Travis

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Looking & Seeing

I find today a new sense of gratitude for Thomas Merton’s perspective…

“Because looking means that you already have something in mind for your eye to find; you’ve set out in search of your desired object and have closed off everything else presenting itself along the way.  But seeing is being open and receptive to what comes to the eye; your vision total and not targeted.”

Ron Seitz, Song for Nobody, A Memory Vision of Thomas Merton (italics added)
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The Core of the “Family Blessing”

 As I again enter into the Orientation season, I am reminded of the power inherent in the core of what I call the “Family Blessing.”  The core of this message is focusing on building self-competency for your daughter/son: that she/he can do this, and that she/he is not alone!

Each student has “landmarks” in his journey, often people, who helped guide him to this pivotal point.  Each landmark – a family member, friend, neighbor, or mentor — took a sincere interest in helping guide his journey, and as such, each person has a vested interest in his success.

I believe it is essential to http://www.collegeparent101.com/wp-includes/js/tinymce/plugins/wordpress/img/trans.gifconvey the Blessing both verbally and in writing.  The words of hope, encouragement, and support that make up the Blessing carry power such that they may make the difference between a successful first year and a mediocre one.  To be able to both hear and read these words provide students one of the most tangible foundations of trust I have seen in nearly 30 years in higher education.

Blessing letters might include words of…

  • excitement for the myriad possibilities that lie ahead
  • pride in her accomplishments
  • support for him in the path he chooses
  • trust in her ability to make wise decisions based in her own self-knowledge
  • words born out of spiritual, family, and/or community relationships

In turn, and equally as valuable, are the things I’d encourage you NOT to say; such as,

  • comments related to her making YOU proud
  • remarks that convey that he is responsible for YOUR feelings
  • stories that are, in reality, about YOUR fears
  • ways in which you may be expressing a lack of trust: often connected to the word “Should” (I’ll devote a future post to talk about this)

Here is a portion of an email from a Dad in Missouri, speaking to his own experience of conveying the Blessing:

“…one thing that stuck with me from your presentation was to give our son our “blessing.”  That never dawned on me, and I wish I had known of its importance when his older sister went off to college.  Before we left after move-in weekend, we stopped for a parting prayer.  But before that prayer I was able to speak to our (mom’s & dad’s) belief that he would be a success, had our full unqualified support, and that he had our full blessing.  A spontaneous group hug and tears quickly followed.  While I know I’m preaching to the choir, you can’t emphasize this enough to new college parents.  I had no idea how important it was for him until that day.  And as you pointed out, the choice of words is essential.”

Peace, Dane

p.s. If you are willing to share a copy of your Blessing letter &/or your student’s response, I’d be glad to hear from you!  Please include your name & home state – thanks!

 

 

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Relationship by “Save As” —

As this new academic year begins, I recognize that it is often easier (read: less hard/difficult) to fall back on what I know, or how I have always done something.  I bump into the temptation every year, as I prepare the syllabus for a course I’ve taught a dozen times, to change the dates and hit “Save As”, then move on to the next item on the endless list.

So as I sat with the choice again late this summer.  I was faced with the question of how I might do this very familiar thing differently.  How might I consider another vantage point?  How might the opportunity present itself in ways I hadn’t previously considered?  In what ways might I engage with the students, the material, and my own sense of the experience differently so as to create a different outcome?

I did, ultimately, completely retool an assignment.  Time – and the student’s experience with it – will tell if the retooling is successful, but it has engaged me in a new level of attention and excitement about where this semester may go that previous semesters have not; as good as they were.

And, as regular readers here can attest, these musings typically lead me to find some connection to this task we’re on as parents to help move our students toward a greater, deeper sense of their own self-competency.

I overheard parents during Summer Orientation sessions talking to their students about how this new college experience was going to play out for their own children (some adamantly and with great certainty).   As a parent, I recognize that we do this all the time.  We talk to our kids about our own experience in ways that conveys that they need, or should, make decisions based on how WE did things, rather than allowing her to learn through her experience (which is likely how we actually learned ourselves). 

I recognize that when we talk out of our experience as a way to dictate our student’s experience, we are projecting on them a limited picture of what may be possible; a way in which we are creating a “Save As” experience – that her experience will be/should be/ought to be similar to my own.  I don’t sense that we set out with this goal in mind; to share our experience as a means of forming our student’s to be like our own, but at these liminal (threshold) points, that is often what and how our students hear the message. 

So, as a way of considering how you might parent differently than you have before – as you work intentionally to transition your relationship with your student – might you consider how you talk about your own experience in ways that may be conveying how you want/believe/hope/think your student’s path “should” look?  Are there ways in which you are expressing a “Save As” expectation in the ways you engage in conversation that may be limiting to/for your student’s unique experience? 

I wish you well as you seek to write a new story!

Peace, Dane

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Prayer for the Journey

I often close my live College Parent 101 presentations with a few excerpts from a prayer written by Father Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, El Salvador. He was assassinated on March 24, 1980, while celebrating Mass in a small chapel in a cancer hospital where he lived.

To me, the prayer is a beautiful tribute at the heart of what it means to set a daughter or son off on a new journey, particularly one as significant and full of hope, excitement, concern, and even fear, as the college journey.  I’m hopeful that you find encouragement and support in his gracious words.

It helps now and then to step back and take a long view.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.

Nothing we do is complete

This is what we are about.

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

 

If you would like to see the prayer in its entirety, you need only Google: Prayer Archbishop Oscar Romero.