What makes a home?

January 29, 2009

I considered the above question this morning, whilst standing on the verandah looking over our rather bedraggled but much loved vegie garden. Bodhi was wandering around eating a tomato that we had freshly picked for him, and I realised that, whilst transitory, I am going to miss this place when we move to Bellingen.

Over my life, I have lived in twelve different places. I have lived in every type of situation, from multiple occupancy farms, to share houses, to boarding, in huts, in apartments, in large houses, in a refuge, by myself, with partners, with friends, and with enemies. I have rented and owned. I even spent four miserable but healing months in a mouldy, old caravan.

I have felt a strong affinity to some places, and never felt at home with others. Strangely enough, I never really felt at home with the place Zai and I owned. Having said that, I believe that a place never belongs to you- you belong to a place, and as such, and having lived that experientially, home ownership is not a goal of mine anymore, except in maybe a convenience sense.

What has lead me to feel connected to a place- like I belong?

To answer this I will reflect on the places I have lived with a sense of connection to a strong degree. Those places are the MO I grew up on- an old hut in the middle of a thousand acres outside a small rural town; my first flat out of home; the caravan, an apartment at Flynn’s Beach,  and this place.

The farm gave me roots. I lived there for fifteen years, so shared a considerable history with it. The land was my solace, the cradle of my imagination, a classroom far more interesting and relevant than any I went through in the school system.

In childhood, being somewhat socially isolated, I found a lot of what I was searching for in the land. In my cubbies in the forest, I created additions to my family of mum and I- many brothers and sisters. I had a whole imaginary life supplementing my real one. I had a complex and comforting narrative wrapped up in the land, and all my special secret spots and beautiful places.

We were evicted when I was fifteen, as the owners were selling the property, and that is the loss I probably still feel most keenly to date.

So, from this place, what makes a home? Shared history. Personal meaning that no one else shares.

The memories of my first little apartment are predominantly really fun. It felt so liberating to be out of home, to do my own thing in my own way, if daunting. I think we had a party every weekend, and I soon had two flatmates and two cats living with me in an area the size of an average lounge room (or, at least it felt like it sometimes!). Somehow we managed about eight months there before we were evicted, when one of us left a tap on and flooded the downstairs garage.

What do I take from this? A place of fun and joy, but also of finding and affirming my self.

The caravan was a sanctuary after a nasty breakup. I had very little money, very few options, and just about no self esteem. I was hurting badly, but at the same time had a keen instinct to heal.

It was again a time of finding myself, but this time, not discovering who I was, but reinventing myself, examining what I liked, and enhancing it, and discarding what no longer served me.

The apartment at Flynn’s was in some ways the opposite. Having come through that time, rebuilding my self esteem, options and bank account, I rented this beautiful penthouse. The first morning I woke up there, I had a wonderful feeling of space and lightness all around me.

That flat was testament to my journey in life, my material and spiritual progress. It was karmic, I think.

From that place, I found my belonging in a reflection of my journey.

The house we now live in is filled with joy because of the people. Mainly my beautiful little boy. When I think about this house, I think about Bodhi running around eating home grown tomatoes. I think of Zai and I sitting on the verandah at midnight drinking chai and talking about social issues. I think of the way the dawn light streaming in the window looks as I feed my child.

So from this place, I learn family. But also, it’s a mutually beneficial relationship we have with this house. We tend it’s gardens, look after the land, and it provides us with food. We cleanse the space, and it provides us with peace. We sow in love, and we are surrounded by love.

So in a small way, we are dependant on each other. Interdependency is what it has taught us.

To summarise, connectedness and belonging come from shared history and personal meaning, fun and joy, connecting and affirming the self, a sanctuary but at the same time reflecting the life journey, but mostly, a sense of love and interdependence.

In five months, we make the move to our soul town. We take with us not only possessions, but these lessons, and I look forward to finding my home I knwo is already there, waiting for me, just like it always has.

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Harvesting Anger

January 15, 2009

Anger is so often seen as a negative emotion. The immediate mental image I elicit, when I think ‘anger’ is a loss of control, violence, and being swept away.

The more enlightened of us will know, there is no such thing as “good” and “bad”, or “positive” and “negative”; not in a truly universal, existential sense anyway. “Good”, “bad” and all those kinds of words are labels, and simplistic ones that deny the complexity of any situation at that. They deny the natural duality, continuum and changeability of the universe and anything that exists within it. Secondly, they are firmly and often unconsciously based on our perspectives- our unique constructs of the world, built not from reality, but from experience, contemplation and the values and beliefs we have taken on from the world around us.

Keeping this in mind, I let go of the need to see anger as a negative or destructive emotion. Of course, it can be, but to label it as either of those things, to box it in, is cutting me off from the opportunity that it may present me.

A duality of anger is this: it can be constructive, or destructive. Destructive anger fuels violence, prejudice and danger. Perhaps it stems from a lack of full contemplation of the situation (which is, of course, a challenge in the heat of the moment!). Also, it can be indicative of an overly powerful id, (or in lay terms, instinctual drive), or perhaps the insufficient completion of an earlier life stage of controlling instincts and channelling them into socially acceptable ways (although, given again the duality of things, there probably are times that unrestrained, public anger is appropriate, and certainly, from a therapeutic sense, it can be useful to appropriately express these kinds of emotions in a safe environment…but I digress).

To an activist, constructive anger is a valuable tool. Activism stems from a sense of injustice, and that sense of injustice, among other things, will commonly elicit anger.

Without anger, there would be no activism, no Movements, no social justice.

Anger gives us the energy to step outside our comfort zones and speak out about our beliefs. It helps us to keep campaigning and educating when morale is low and positive change seems unlikely. It helps us connect with those who are most primarily affected by the issue, whether it be a deep sense of centeredness and grounding in our own place in the world, or a nameless identity on the other side of the world.

Anger provokes us to consider our world, to engage in it, and to debate and consider how it can be improved. Given this consciousness, it shows us how to act.

All of this, makes anger a gift from the universe, to us, and ultimately to itself.

The important issue is how the anger is used. Anger, used creatively, and constructively engages people, involves them and assists us all, cooperatively to make a fairer world. Destructive and violent anger (not only is physical violence, but verbal and emotional and any other way) alienates people, and creates not cooperation, but delineation. By it’s own definitions, it cuts itself off from meeting it’s own goals.

The trick is a matter of control. Does the anger control you, or do you control your anger? It’s ‘your’ anger, to use as benefit to you, and not as is often seen, to undermine you. Own it, and allow it to serve you, and your world.

Presence

January 8, 2009

Something I have struggled as a parent is my ability to play. Writing it even seems a little absurd to me, what indeed is ‘ability to play?’  By this, I mean the ability to engage Bodhi, and be present with Bodhi, as he explores his world through toys and objects (for of course, play isn’t limited to toys!).

It’s not that I don’t understand the importance of play to someone of his age. I remember reading somewhere that play is a child’s work; and it is through play that he will develop cognitive, social, physical and all kinds of skills.

So knowing this, I think perhaps I put a lot of pressure on myself to be a ‘good playmate’ to Bodhi. At times I have felt guilty, or perhaps neglectful, because of my inability to connect well in this way.

And it’s not all the time that I can’t be present through him with play (and that I need to acknowledge to myself). But the trend is, that I have difficulty disengaging from the adult, task orientated and distracted mindset, to that of a child, who is purely connected to the moment and experiencing things, if not for the first time, then with freshness and vigour.

It makes me sad that I am so wrapped up in my world, and my experience of the world, that I can’t let go of it without much effort and be open to the opportunity of play. I consider myself a primarily task orientated person, and the playful side of me has always been in the shadow of my more dominant persona, which has always been a source of dissatisfaction, but more recently, has been greater in magnitude due to the frustration and disconnection it entails. Often, I just can’t reach where Bodhi is on that level, and I don’t like being an outsider in that.

However, having given the feelings and experience above room to voice themselves, I now forgive myself and allow myself to be open to new experience without limiting myself. The ability to do this came from an insight I had the other day.

Play is, of course, not the only way I have to connect with my son. We connect in lots of ways- through breastfeeding, co-sleeping, reading books together and discussing the world (as well as infinite moments just shared in spur of the moment things). But I have recently discovered another way that we have been sharing presence- and that’s through the day to day tasks of living.

I had misgivings about ‘routine’ from day one as a parent. From my initial perspective, routine for me seemed more about parental convenience- having a predictable baby (maybe that’s what people mean when they ask me if I have a ‘good’ baby??) that fits well into the lives of his or her parents. And from the benefit of hindsight, whilst this may be true for some families- most often unintentionally so, and simply a matter of lack of awareness that other options exist and are beneficial- I now think I allowed myself to be indoctrinated a little.

In the natural/attachment/connection parenting circles- like with any other social group there is- there are a small number  who are fundamental and unforgiving. And these are the sources from which I took on the belief that all routine is bad, that helping my baby to sleep by having a predictable, gentle bedtime routine (even if it takes two hours some nights!) is ignoring the fact that the baby will sleep when it’s tired, so no ‘bedtime’ is needed, and in fact, this is simply a way of manipulating my child to meet my adult needs. Or other such things, like having meals at regular times and so on.

So generally, Bodhi would fall asleep anywhere between 9pm and 1am, I make him meals when he communicated he was hungry, and he might have had one or two or three naps a day anywhere between twenty minutes and three hours long. Whilst I was connected to him and tuned into his needs at all times, there was a small part of me that felt scattered and needed to reassert myself and my needs (in a mutually beneficial way) and even a little resentful. And I think Bodhi picked up on that, and because of this, and the general lack of predictability, I believe it heightened his wariness of the world that resulted from the birth trauma.

However, after my mother had the stroke, and came to live with us, I knew things had to change. Managing the needs of myself and a one-year-old, as well as Zai to some extent, was hard enough, let alone with caring for someone who had recently had a very serious illness, and whose health habits (such as only eating one meal a day) needed to be changed.

And so I started to incorporate a bit of rhythm into our lives. Some things were non negotiably outside the boundaries of routine- such as breastfeeding on Bodhi’s cues, and not forcing Bodhi to sleep through the night. But other things, such as having regular meal times; a bedtime routine where we brush our teeth, have a feed, put all the toys to bed and then read stories; and making sure there is a balance of outside and inside time and active and restful time throughout the day, have become part of our repertoire.

I believe I have balanced all of our family’s needs, allowing the things that are important not to be constrained, such as feeding to be done when needed, whilst providing a respectful, gentle framework to the day that allows everyone a sense of comfort and wellbeing.

Bodhi’s Steiner playgroup teacher explained it well to me the other week- having a predictable environment allows the child the confidence and security to go out and explore the world. And of course, the feeling of security is vital to the psychological development of a child of this age!

The surprising thing about all this, though- and here I finally come to my point!- is that I have found myself becoming more present to Bodhi within these rhythms. Stirring a pot together, eating morning tea on a blanket in the garden, cuddling each toy one by one as they go to bed- these have become our precious shared moments that I felt I was missing out on in play.

Being able to say, “Let’s go read stories now,” or “It’s time for a bath”, and seeing his face light up and watching him patter off down the hall to the book room or the bathroom has been a delight. I have become so much more anchored in the moment, and with him. I have also noticed that he is more stable in his emotions, and that joy pervades everything he does. It has also allowed me the ability to meet my needs within the family- mum and I can share parenting duties so I can study, or if I’ve had a wakeful night with him I can nap during the day. Having that framework that everyone is familiar with allows Bodhi to connect not only with me but his father and Nana as well.

So the thing I was perhaps most scared of- not meeting Bodhi’s needs- has actually turned out to be one of the things best met by our rhythm. All it takes is a little awareness.

Many of you will know about the recent “Hey, Facebook, breastfeeding is not obscene!” protest that happened on the social networking site recently. The following are the words of one Facebbok account holder, who had her account, and numerous valuable items deleted from the internet last week.
PLEASE feel free to copy and paste, and SPREAD THE WORD, via your blog, or other mothering groups you may belong to.

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Hello,

My name is Emma Kwasnica. I am a 30-year-old Canadian tandem-nursing mother living in Montréal, whose Facebook account has now been entirely disabled over the breastfeeding photos controversy (http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1869128,00.html). The official petition group on Facebook is called Hey Facebook, breastfeeding is NOT obscene! (http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2517126532). I am reaching out because I think you might be interested in the Facebook fiasco over breastfeeding images, and them being classified as “obscene, sexually explicit and pornographic”. Yes, I said *breastfeeding*. The most loving, selfless act on Earth.

For the record, my entire Facebook account has now been deleted, with no explanation from the administrators of Facebook. While they have not confirmed the reason for disabling my account, I can only suspect it stems from the fact that, in the days leading up to the disabling of my account, I had photos of me breastfeeding my daughters deleted, and was given a “warning” for having had uploaded “obscene” content that renders Facebook “unsafe for children”.

Given the amount of obscene, pornographic, and truly disturbing photos, applications and groups that proliferate across Facebook, I am stunned that this has happened to me. I am an aspiring midwife/Childbirth Educator/ Breastfeeding Counselor; I run a lively discussion group on Facebook called ‘Informed Choice : Birth and Beyond’ (http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=21515708855), and have been sharing all of my summarised research, studies, links regarding pregnancy, birth and motherhood with a group of nearly three hundred people, since July 2008. And now, everything that I ever wrote, all my photos, all of my midwifery-related research, has been deleted –right off the face of Facebook. Furthermore, this does not concern me alone, as many (over a hundred ?) other Facebook users had their posts deleted, too, since whole discussion threads were deleted into oblivion, if it was indeed me who began the thread (and 80% of the time, it *was* me who had started the threads, since this was my group, me sharing the most recent research relevant to the childbearing/-rearing woman).

Facebook has not responded to my e-mails politely enquiring why my account has been disabled. They remain faceless. Hence the reason why I am now reaching out and going public with my situation. I am desperate to get my words back, and most importantly, the general North American public needs to be made aware of Facebook’s disgusting double standards regarding “decency”. I am revolted to report that Facebook allows the likes of a group called “Dead Babies Make Me Laugh”, and yet, someone such as myself, who wants nothing but to inspire and help women on their journey to birthing healthy, vibrant babies, has her whole account deleted.

I have now done radio station interviews (a Sakatoon one, as well as Montréal’s 98.5 FM), and was interviewed for ‘La Presse’ newspaper here in Montréal, the article for which appeared in yesterday’s edition of ‘La Presse’ (http://technaute.cyberpresse.ca/nouvelles/internet/200901/04/01-814622-des-meres-en-croisade-contre-facebook.php), the English translation for which you will find below. I may be doing another one-hour long segment on the same Saskatoon radio station at some point this week.

There is a Canadian slant to this whole Facebook fiasco, in that the tireless organisor of the original online protest (http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=39521488436) is from Ottawa (Stephanie Muir), the TERA site that is currently the “safe haven” for breastfeeding photos which have been deleted by Facebook is a Canadian one (http://www.tera.ca/photos6.html), and is coordinated by Paul Rapoport of Hamilton, Ontario… and now, the only (known) person so far to have had their Facebook acount fully disabled over this issue –me, a Montreal mother.

Please help me by spreading the word of Facebook’s appalling actions (such as by posting this to your blog), and consider this an official plea to get the word out ! For the sake of the next generation of babies, people everywhere need to understand that the larger issue of normalising breastfeeding is deeply important here. In 2009, it is unacceptable that women feel shamed, or are sexualised, while providing the most normal, the most physiologically appropriate food for their babies : breastmilk.

Sincerely yours,
-Emma Kwasnica, Montréal

PS Here you will find the full-page newspaper article/image from Le Journal de Montréal (http://picasaweb.google.ca/emma.kwasnica/20081011BreastfeedingChallenge#5261616556288520402), in which I am breastfeeding my daughters. This is particularly relevant as Facebook has said that no major newspaper in North America would publish the type of breastfeeding photos that they have deleted. This simply isn’t true – this newspaper image (from October 2008) is living proof ! If Montreal, a city of over 3.5 million, can handle seeing this image in a daily newspaper, then why can’t Facebook ?

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MOTHERS CRUSADING AGAINST FACEBOOK
Daphné Cameron, La Presse
January 04, 2009

“Cover up this breast that I do not want to see.”

Even though it was written in the 17th century, Molière’s famous refrain is still à la mode for those who run Facebook’s networking site.

For several months now, photographs of mothers breastfeeding their children have been being deleted. The restriction has provoked anger in women all over the globe. In protest, 11,000 women replaced their profile picture with the image of a breastfeeding mother.

This online protest was organized for December 27th by Stephanie Muir, an Ottawa mother outraged by the website policy, that says that no “pornographic or sexually explicit” material may be uploaded to the site.

“It is unthinkable that in 2008, such a loving image, one of a mother breastfeeding her baby, can be perceived as sexual or offensive,” she said. “It’s because we stigmatise women in this way, that mothers make the choice not to breastfeed, or breastfeed for a shorter length of time.”

In additon to the web protest, a few dozen women assembled in front of the Facebook headquarters in California, and nursed their babies there.

The response by Facebook administrators was immediate. According to Stephanie Muir, accounts of several protestors were disabled.

This is the case of Montrealer Emma Kwasnica, who no longer has access to her personal account, since January 1st.

“Facebook began deleting photos of me breastfeeding my daughters on December 28th”, stated the 30-year-old who is studying to become a midwife. “A few days later, the administrators disabled my account with the only explanation being that I had uploaded obscene content. Breastfeeding is the most beautiful thing in the world. How does one automatically associate that with sex ?”

The protest organised by Stephanie Muir has provoked a media frenzy in the United States. Facebook reacted by publishing a press release that specified that only photos showing nipple or areola are banned.

Facebook reiterated that it is a private company which has the right to decide which content it hosts on its site.

My hopes for the year

January 1, 2009

Being the first day of a brand new year full of promise and hope, I thought I would record what I would like to see happen in my life over the next twelve months, so I can reflect on it this time next year.

In the area of self actualisation and renewal, I would like to see myself slow down. I want to embrace mindfulness and the vibrancy that lies within. I want to find a greater balance between being and doing, to live in the moment with the same veracity that Bodhi does. Becoming more aware of my sense of connectedness with the collective consciousness, planet and people is a big theme for me. I’d like to be able to harness energy in a different way, Reiki would be a great skill to learn. I want to get to the end of my healing path, cultivate empathy and be able to say that non-violent communication comes to me naturally and as a default state. I want to feel more grounded in my life.

In the area of wellbeing, I want to wean myself of the medication I currently take, as the last major chemical I put into my body except for food. I would love to sleep better, but that all depends on my little one, and frankly, his sleep-and-waking rhythm is more important to me right now! I’d like to take the step from being a pescatarian to vegetarian, both for moral and environmental reasons. I’d like to develop a bit more of a style. I need to exercise more regularly- Pilate’s and yoga for my back, chakra dance for body and soul wellbeing, and walking and perhaps swimming for cardiovascular health. I would like to return to my pre-pregnancy weight, and then shed some more.  Most of all, I want to be a good role model for Bodhi in the way that I nourish my body, and I cannot say that I do that a sufficient amount of the time now. This I need to do with urgency.

In the area of mothering, I want to continue to explore and celebrate this most sacred of my roles. My focus right now is helping Bodhi learn about his emotions, also setting boundaries that allow him to feel safe and secure. He is also discovering his autonomy, and I want to walk with him in this too. I look forward to a full year of Steiner playgroup and the beginning of our involvement with Chrysalis Steiner School. Perhaps, by the end of the year, we will be looking at having another baby, but perhaps not as well.

In the area of activism and community involvement, my major goal is to expand and direct Birth Healing so it can meet the goal of making birth a more peaceful event for all concerned. I would like to become more involved in peace and human rights issues, and be active in the Greens as well as the ABA. Another urgent issue for me is to become more sustainable in the way I live my life- take the big steps needed to be a wise and just planetary custodian.

This year is going to be a big one for my career. I am in the process of applying for accreditation with the Australian Counselling Association, and am looking at opening up a private practice soon, with both generalist and birth trauma related counselling. I look forward to finishing my last field placement and modules, and finally finally completing my course. My next step in my academic path will either be the final four modules to complete the degree in Applied Social Science, or a childbirth education course.

In terms of writing, I aim to finish the novel I am working on, to a stage where the manuscript is being sent to assessment services, agents and publishers. I also aim to self publish a book on birth trauma, and publish many articles on the issue on Birth Healing. Helping effect positive social change is something I aim to incorporate within everything I write, and I hope this may continue throughout the year.

For pure fun and enjoyment, I would like to continue to learn djembe and fire poi, and I would also like to learn to Belly Dance. I would like to travel more- Woodford Folk Festival is my ultimate, and I also fervently look forward to the East Coast Blues and Roots Festival.

In the area of home, this year will be especially significant. In six months we will be moving to Bellingen and setting down roots there. Having a gentle, rhythmic and peaceful home life is a priority and a sanctuary.

I’d like to extend our social network in Bellingen over the coming months, whilst still nurturing our friendships we have here. I want to learn to become a more skillful conversationalist, and be able to derive more energy from connecting with people. I would like to continue to have a vibrant relationship with Zai, based on the ability to strongly engage each other, create a greater sense of respect, playfulness, intimacy and connection and also to continue and deepen our tantric connection. I look forward to seeing my mother continue to recover, and embrace the gifts of closeness her illness has brought to us.

I amuse myself somewhat with my high ideals, and the amount I believe I can achieve in a year. However, indulgent as this is, it’s the spirit being it all that means to most to me. If this time next year, I can say I’ve lived a peaceful, creative, living life within my tribe, following my intuition, acting consciously and deepening my wisdom, I will feel it is a year truly lived.