Unlearning Conventional Wisdom

by Urmila Samson

This year marks my sixtieth journey around the sun, travelling on what Carl Sagan famously referred to as the Pale Blue Dot. A great vantage point to look back on the life I lived and wonder who this person was who lived it.

In the beginning there is a Big Bang of passion. Without this passion, there would be no child born. No family bonds. It is the original love each of us experiences before our hearts are broken for the first time, our trust is betrayed and our troubles begin.

John and I had three children. I say ‘had children’ because they are all young adults now in their twenties. They were the best thing we have ever experienced in our lives, and continue to be so. There is no one we would rather be with than them. Nothing we would rather do than engage with them. They make life worth living. They have been our Light, our learning, our Love and our guide into our inner depths. Their wisdom never ceases to amaze us. We turn to them for wise counsel and are never disappointed. Till we had children of our own, we didn’t know of the infinite possibilities that keep surprising us every day. Conventional wisdom was proved wrong time and again, encouraging us to veer further and further from the norms of parenting we grew up with and saw around us.

Many things are not new to you now, but pre internet, with only one major bookstore in Pune, we figured out a lot of things ourselves, and only later found validation in books, and even later from the internet, when it arrived. Here are a few examples, though there are many:

My mother, having been influenced by the West, made a baby’s room adjacent to ours. After months of getting out of bed several times each night to nurse my first baby, sitting up in a rocking chair, I discovered it made much better sense to have our baby sleep with us. By the time our second baby was born, someone showed me how to tie a sling so I could carry my baby around while I went about my daily chores. And by the third, an elderly helper tied a soft saree to make a sleeping swing for the baby’s daytime naps. About a decade later I heard of Jean Liedloff’s book, “The Continuum Concept”, and about how indigenous people, like our own sense cognate populations in India, ‘co-sleep’, carry their babies close to their bodies while they go about their daily work — ‘attachment parenting’, and that swinging helps brain development. (My friend Jinan’s phrase Sense Cognates makes much more sense to me than the conventionally accepted ‘illiterates’ or ‘uneducated’.)

Throughout my life I have turned first to my sense cognate helpers and friends, for their better ways of being and doing. For example, during the breastfeeding stage, when my baby cried because of stomach cramps, I would drink water boiled with ajwain. If the baby was in severe pain, I learned to quickly chew ajwain with my front teeth, and then blow the fumes directly into the baby’s face. Worked like magic! I turned to them for advice all the way to menopause. Once a friend and I had similar menopausal symptoms. Whereas she paid several thousands of rupees for tests, my helper told me “Aisa hotha hai”. That’s all! Menopause for me was unbelievably simple and passed almost unnoticed. (Disclaimer: My son Niom read this article and objected to me giving ‘dangerous medical advice’ about ajwain and menopause.)

As the children were growing up, conventional wisdom said they must daily brush their teeth, bathe, eat four square meals, change their clothes…and regularly cut nails, hair, buy clothes, shoes and other products…to keep them healthy. So long as I was stressed about all these ‘proper’ things to do, we kept falling ill, especially during ‘change of season’. The moment I stopped being stressed about these things, we kept amazingly perfect health for years, including during change of season, and I haven’t yet noticed any long term difference between them and other children who did all the above regularly, including myself. (Normal ill health returned during teenage.)

Conventional wisdom said not to overindulge children as they will become spoiled. My husband earned mainly for his children. Almost before they asked, it was his joy to buy them things. By my standards they were overly overindulged. Overcoming my conditioning, I began to observe that they did not become spoiled. I rationalised it as because of the fact that the ‘bought things’ came from their father (and paternal grandmother) from Pure Love. Even material things that are gifted from a space of pure love are received in love and cannot harm, was my conclusion.

John and I have lived lives from childhood till date with rather large fluctuations in finances. During our children’s growing years, they adjusted very well to both high and low availability of money and lifestyle. We rarely even mention or seem to notice the fluctuations. During the occasional times of financial stress, we find the children very supportive and caring in facing the situation together.

Since John and I are never sure that we know what’s good for them better than they do, or even what is good or bad in changing contexts, we have mostly left them in complete freedom, and in addition we have even supported them in their decisions. This seems to have created within them inner discipline, discernment, sensing for themselves what is what in every moment of every day, no external rules to blindly follow, no certainty about anything in life, spontaneous emergence of what needs to be done each day, following up the spontaneous emergence with responsibility and self awareness increasing daily…All things that one desires from a good school and college education and conventional parenting, but which we notice, actually manifested in doing the opposite of conventional wisdom.

Before anyone thinks that just by doing the opposite, things will work out, I would warn that that is not necessarily true. Perhaps conventional wisdom can bring about these desirable outcomes, because the main thing I feel, is parents working on their own conditioning, constantly ‘deschooling’ themselves, daring to become more vulnerable, more natural, more truthful and appropriate. Rather than falling back on tried and tested ways, or shunning the tried and tested. I remember once when I was tired in this effort to be always appropriate, and I told John, “But in comparison to others we are doing really really well!” And he simply said, “We shouldn’t compare. We need to set our own standards.”

Also, before anyone thinks that I am trying to say that we and our children are perfect and have no issues :) Let me assure you we have many many challenges and issues. These have to do with our individual flaws, shortcomings, unconscious tendencies, our very humanness, just like everyone else. The attempt here is to be constantly vigilant to the playing out of our shadows, try to be our own best friends, go easy on ourselves and not judge and criticise ourselves too harshly. This way it is easier to see, to face and to live increasingly appropriately. We all are battle scarred like everyone else. Life doesn’t spare anyone. These wounds are what I like to call our Growing Edge. The open wound corners of the being are openings to healing, learning and growth. Perfect roundedness leads to stagnation. We should not be fooled into believing that perfect roundedness is either desirable or even possible.

Conventional education and parenting is about getting everything correct every day, many times a day forever and never tolerating mistakes. This is itself a big mistake. However, mistakes are our best teachers. So that contributes to wounding and growing edges too! Now you see why John and I are never quite sure of what is good and bad :)) Out beyond right and wrong there is a field, I will meet you there. Rumi, I think.

All three children are out in the world now, facing and embracing life’s ups and downs in their own unique ways. Our conversations, as always, are deeply rewarding and illuminating. They are rarely about what we are doing, and more about discoveries, subtleties and nuances of Life.

I am madly in love with my husband and our children. Family is the most Precious Gift _/\_

Urmila Samson lives in Pune, Maharashtra. She can be reached at <urmilasamson@gmail.com>.

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