This last few days I was on retreat with colleagues from Gabor Maté's Compassionate Inquiry Training. It was held near Malinalco, in the mountains of the State of Mexico, an area considered to be sacred landscape. We stayed at the Centro Nierika, a special place committed to healing with a focus on plant medicine and indigenous knowledge. Beneficiaries, I was pleased to find out, are particularly the members of indigenous communities themselves. The center is also at the forefront of research to understand how plant medicine and psychedelics can be used for healing, including for addictions
It is interesting how our kids are so medicated, often without clarity on the long-term effects on developing minds, yet there is significant resistance to exploring medicines and treatments that indigenous communities have used for centuries. In the treatment of our children's mental health (and our own!), many of us are tired of the preeminence of Western medicine and belief systems in healing mental health, rooted in the need for expert intervention, pathologization, and medication, to fix what is seen as "broken". I'm happy there is increasing openness to sources of wisdom and knowledge that see us a whole and our wellbeing as a integrated system of body, mind and soul, with agency in our own healing. The work at the Centro Nierika is a living example.
During the three days of the retreat, there were a number of themes that came up that were relevant for how we learn and heal together, and also very much for how we parent and relate with our children, especially when we are struggling.
Structure vs. Emergence. To differing degrees, we are drawn to schedules, lists and plans. It was how we were taught from an early age, to accomplish, produce, to navigate complexity, and ensure that we were headed in the "right" direction, ticking off the boxes that society told us would make us worthy, accepted, safe and successful. My first memory of this pressure to be on track was seeing the adults around me with the coveted Filofax planner, with a section to organize every aspect of your life, leaving nothing to chance. While I still love my lists and notebooks, I've learned over the years that allowing space and trusting that people's innate wisdom, aligned with the intelligence of the universe (however you are comfortable defining that), is incredibly powerful. These processes can not be orchestrated or planned, and instead require a systematic commitment to conscious ways of relating, that aren't always our first nature. Our experience these last few days highlighted truths which are as valid with a group of strangers as with the relationships with our children. I was reminded that love and control are not compatible. Strengthening connection and transformative learning has little to do with goals and list-making, and much more to do with commitment to how we show up, to presence, and to cleaning up our own emotional landscapes.
Trust requires repair. While we can assume "best intentions" trust has to be built, and this often comes through repair. In fact, without the safety that comes through the experience of righting a relationship, fear of things falling apart weakens the connection. There were a number of times when actions or words caused pain, and our first instincts were to retreat and defend. It's so hard to hear that you may have caused harm, especially when it comes to our kids. It's so hard to not make it mean, "I am not a good parent", "I'm not worthy", "I don't belong". I was reminded that when we can both hear and seek forgiveness for pain caused, regardless of our intention, and at the same time acknowledge our own value and wholeness, we find grace. We build trust.
What attunement looks like. The mysterious word "attunement" is often thrown out to parents as guidance on how to relate to our kids. This weekend I saw clear examples of attunement - careful listening, curiosity with no attempt to convince, impart knowledge, or fix. There is a quality of not needing anything, not proving anything, not gaining anything from the interaction other than the value of connecting with another human, holding space for them to express, to share, to feel, to be seen.
Strong back, soft front. I use this often to remind myself and people I work with of our stance in the world, with our kids, with anyone we connect with. This weekend we worked with each others' trauma, and I witnessed the power of the combination of strength and softness in allowing for healing. In the face of our children's pain, we often dissolve the boundary between us and them, we merge with their pain, taking it on as as our own. Blurring the lines between self and other just leaves our children with the additional burden of another's emotions. Instead in the face of pain we can open our hearts, and still hold space, with a strong back, from a position of strength and sovereignty.
Today, a few days back home, I'm still basking in the wonder of people coming together with the courage to share their own shadow and pain, knowing that this is the only way to contribute to the world's healing. It's powerful stuff.
If anyone is has a young person (or yourself!) interested in plant medicine, hallucinogenics, and indigenous healing practices, please let me know and I can connect you with wise and compassionate practitioners with years of experience.