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By Nicki Chun
My daily bike commute affords me rare moments of peaceful reflection, today marveling at the fact I've been awake over two hours and am only now free to think though MY day ahead. The relentless treadmill of our family’s morning routine consumes all available oxygen; from the first mandatory full body stretch that allows my aging muscles to shuffle down the hall and wake the kids, to the final packed lunch and walked dog. After fifteen years, motherhood remains to me, a dichotomy of dedication and depletion, of deprivation and fulfillment. The intense privilege of parenting carries a steep personal expense. Has it always been this hard or have we managed to fabricate the "Silicon Valley" Supersized Mom?
Seeking rejuvenation of the spiritual flavor, two years ago I happened upon a Stanford Continuing Education class called "The Science of Compassion" taught by Dr. Kelly Mc Gonagal. Kelly is is a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University. She is a spell weaver who can bind the basics of neurobiology with Buddhist logic, creating a roadmap for interpersonal connections. Not your typical social networking connections, but an honest, intimate invitation to share life's road with intentional compassion. Many evenings it gave me pause to consider whether my hectic, goal oriented, time driven parenting style provides fertile ground for nurturing compassion and altruism for my children.
In response to this conundrum of our high achievement compulsions possibly undermining our compassion instinct, we were introduced to the practice of "Self Compassion" and the work of Dr. Kristin Neff. Kristin is an Associate Professor in Education at UT Austin. Her doctorate work at UC Berkeley focused on moral development. She describes her detour into self compassion following the birth of her son, Rowan and her bewildering journey into his world of autism. The principles of compassion practice became a lifeline, maintaining her sanity and resilience. Parental suffering on behalf of a child is perhaps the most intense pain many of us can imagine. It can also be a platform for reevaluation and revelation. Kristin's story of her family's journey though autism offers a gift of hope to others with children who are similarly challenged and to the challenge of parenthood in general. Beyond inspirational story though, her experience evolved into a passionate academic pursuit culminating in the publication of "Self-Compassion: Stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind."
I haven’t solved the problem of our morning crush. But I have started taking small steps to slow down, reflect and simplify. Moreover, I don’t feel the same relentless drive toward production, persistence and perfection. Compassion has soft edges; it allows for diversions, it is flexible and forgiving. Compassion requires being present in the moment rather then being five miles down my mental road. As my children approach their high school years, the educational machinery is shifting into overdrive. How will we navigate our culture’s fixation with GPAs, stacked AP classes and multiple extra-curricular activities? Compassion practice suggests that embracing the person and the process over the product or endpoint is fundamental to making mindful choices. We don’t need to get our kids to a predestine school or profession. We need to give them space to breath and reassurance along the road so they can find their own equilibrium; their own joyful passion. How very hard this can be if we have not been given such encouragement in our past or we fail to give it to ourselves.
A childhood ago, a group of Palo Alto mothers envisioned planting seeds of self compassion before the term was ever coined. They crafted a morning of rejuvenation for local mothers to celebrate the dichotomy of motherhood; the endless care giving, the profound joy, the anxiety, the gratitude. It is a morning for a village of women who walk parallel and intersecting paths to embrace our common journey. The Mother's Symposium convenes on March 9th hosting a program on Self Compassion. Speakers Kelly Mc Gonagal and Kristin Neff will be joined by Dr. Leah Weiss. Leah is the Director for Compassion Education at the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) at Stanford. She is also a village mother, charged with wrapping the morning's gifts into a take home package. Practicing self compassion is an exercise routine that will invigorate the spirit and psyche. It is an antidote for the Supersized Mother. Tickets to the Mother’s Symposium on the morning of March 9, 2013 can be purchased only through: http://motherssymposium.eventbrite.com or www.motherssymposium.org.