An Exploration of Sacred Parenting and Education

Child Rearing Wisdom of the Native Alaskans

In Education, Mevlevi Tradition, parenting on January 20, 2012 at 2:06 pm

While walking out the front door with my daughter this morning, on our way to school, I smiled. I remembered a quote from my friend Saqib, who said “Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.” by Robert Fulghum. My daughter asked me why I was smiling. I said I remembered a friend. She said ‘was it uncle Saqib?’ Its amazing how much intuition and witnessing children possess. The question is, to what extent do we work with it and to what extent does it get obscured over the years over through conditioning and neglect?

In her book, Black Milk, Alif Shafak gives an amazing account a period in her life when she went through depression and lost her one passion in life; writing fiction. On reflecting on post-partum depression she wrote “Interestingly, women knew about this in the old days. Our great grandmothers were aware of all kinds of postpartum instability and therefore better prepared. They passed on their knowledge to their daughters and granddaughters. But today we are so disconnected from the past that we have no real aceess to this wisdom. We are modern women. When we are weary and bruised inside we hide the signs with the latest makeup techniques. We think we can give birth one day and go with our lives the next. Some of us do, of course. The trouble is, others simply cannot“. May be some of the questions we’re asking as parents and educators today have their answers in the traditions of our ancestors, be it Native Indian, African, Middle Eastern, Chinese… 1400 hundred years ago the Arabs of Mecca would send their children off into the desert for a few years of their early childhood because the language was more elequent and the air was fresh amongst other things they would learn from being out of the city and in a rural environment.

I was recently inspired by the TED talk Homer-Larry Merculieff gave on native knowing. He gives an account of the environment he grew up in and the importance of community. Almost as though he were quoting Zaid bin Harith, the adopted son of Muhammed (pbuh), he said “I was never ignored I was always affirmed by every single adult every day… and I was never scolded. How many of you were never scolded?” and goes to say “to get to know my grandfather and for my grandfather to get to know me, I had to be with him 247 for two years, beginning at age 4“. In speaking of his mentor, who had him under his wing from age 5-13 and taught him about manhood, relating to self and others, ethics and values, reverence for life, he describes how his mentor didn’t say no more than 200 words to him in total – and that was some of his most profound learning. They understood words to be “superfluous and even limited.. actions and behaviors speak louder than words.. too much words that come from our head, actually dumb us down”. He wasn’t ever given any instructions or explanations for anything -he was taught experiential. Adults simply made room far that to take place, knowing children would pick up what they needed in their own time. They were expected to watch listen and learn on their own. Children weren’t given prescriptive learning, but children were allowed to explore their own senses, facts and feelings. They call this was the way of the real human being. He feels, most children who are raised with constant adult supervision, discipline and instruction are made “a depositories for somebody else’s knowledge and experience – not their own – as a foundation for them to build on.To me, it sounds almost like the city of Murghdeen Iqbal encounters on Mars during his heavenly ascent with Rumi. In his Javed Nama, he explains “While our hearts are captivated and controlled by our bodies, the bodies of the Martians are contained in their hearts.. Its people are beautiful, selfless and simple; they speak a language that sounds melodious to the ears.”

We may wonder to what extent we can create environments, in the modern world, in which children we can give space for them to learn through witnessing and intuition. This is different to them just watching you, because as Merculieff explained, what was taking place in the environment was on the level of no thought and so to understand how the elders knew of the coming of a sea lion before it had arrived, he had to learn to get out of the head and into the body, being totally present and aware. By doing so he was able to meet the elders at the level they were working at. What gives me hope to such a question, in my personal experience, is the pedagogy of the Sufis: the mystics of Islam. Very little instruction is given and students are expected to refine their intuition to guide them and to try and meet the teacher at the level he/she is teaching at. The teacher works on many levels (both the seen and unseen) with the students ego, heart, mind and soul. All this takes place within a community of wayfarers and in a bond with the teacher known as rabita: “a connection of love, which allows everything that the mature one has to pass to the other person. When there is real love between a shaikh and a dervish, the dervish comes into resonance with the wisdom and light of the shaikh, and the shaikh carries some of the burden of the dervish. A shaikh needs to be strong enough to do this, and this is possible only with the help of God and the lineage, especially the Pir, the Completed Human Being, from whom the particular order derives its baraka, or spiritual grace.” Kabir Helminski, Knowing Heart. Some would say, Uwais al Qarni, a companion of Muhammed (pbuh) from Yemen, who never physically met him, yet both such a connection through the unseen in their deep knowing and love for each, shared a bond of rabita. Another example would be of Imam al Busairi born centuries after the Prophet, who was healed of paralysis in a dream of the Prophet and subsequently wrote the Burdah Sharif. Needless to say, there are countless others who have wrote of being given knowledge in this way. The taste of baraka (spiritual grace) is what, for me, turns these words from mere concepts to a reality which ferments our consciousness and cooks our souls. In an 11-day journey in Turkey last year, there were many formal and informal opportunities to ask questions. We sat in sohbet (spiritual discourse- different to intellectual discussion) many times and on one occasion met with a master of the sohbet tradition who would take an hour to answer one question and in the process act as a mirror reflecting our collective state back to us as the words poured through him. Yet, at a point in the journey, I had to put my rational mind to rest and open myself to witnessing to absorb the experience. A lot of the teaching, for me, was taking place at that level. Here are my reflections from that journey (I don’t normally write poetry):

We, We, We

We were taken on a journey within a journey.
We had seen the pilgrims off and left the ascetics behind in their retreat

We were neither in this world nor the next;
We were at the threshold of Unity.

We saw the subtle as apparent and knew the language of impressions
We were drunk, sober and drunk again on a single glance

We were sown with seeds from eternity for the years to come.
We were students who were taught before we arrived for class

We saw form pouring out with beauty it could not contain
We became a contact for love and found love in every exchange

We were given new eyes to see with and a new inner life.
We saw the Divine in each other and the Divine saw us though us

We were welcomed at the tavern, our I-ness was taken at the door
We heard Jesus’ silence in David’s singing whilst seated at the table of Mustapha

Saqib be-aware! this is the kaba of lovers and the menu tonight is the secret of Shams of Tabiriz!
With such heart melting adab is this wine served, that even a hypocrite like yourself can taste ‘We’

“Today we live in a society that I’m afraid believes that intelligence come from logic, the brain and thought only. And the elders say we must come to know a different way if we are to reverse our self destructive path on this plant. We must be able to access an embodied way of learning.” H. Merculieff. May be, like the Native Alaskans, we need to explore that way of learning as adults ourselves for us to nurture it in our children.

  1. Alhamdulillah, as usual your posts contain a lot of food for thought.

    I have been reading Steiner, and it is interesting for me to see many parallels between his observation of the child with our Islamic tradition as I understood it. But please do correct me if I’m wrong.

    According to Steiner, children from birth to age 7, are at their most imitative phases of their lives. Their natural disposition is to be at one with their environment; thus children are already equipped with the faculty (fitrah?) to learn from their immediate surroundings–good or otherwise.

    Which brings me to the point that children at this formative stage of life do not need direct instructions, verbal commands or even formal academics. If we hope to inculcate wisdom and character in our children, words are to be used like pearls and our striving to become a worthy example for the children to imitate is most crucial. As the children’s surrounding affects their development it is also important that we take responsibility for their immediate environment.

    I wonder if the lack of self-direction among youths these days stem from too much emphasis on head-learning (among others) at a too young an age?

  2. Yes, i think that’s a very interesting point about how much head-learning at too young an age can have later on in life. I’m not qualified to speak on Steiner – but from what I’ve read the Islamic tradition, as you mentioned, also has a similar idea of play during those first 7 years. A parent I spoke to recently sent his child to Montessori as Steiner was too far. One difference he found was Steiner wouldn’t let a child delve into academics even if there was an interest where as Montessori do. (as I understood from what he said). May be it’ll be good to investigate this further as parents. If you know of any Steiner or Montessori educationalist who may wish to contribute here – that’ll be great and they’ll be most welcome. I’ll see if I can network with some myself.

    I’m sure some parents/educators reading this will stress the importance of balance here and say a certain amount of instruction and verbal commands are needed. As a parent in the modern world, i agree. However, I also feel we can make room for silence (from our side) and see the wisdom in allowing children to be heard and given the space to make mistakes and explore on their own. On another level, for me as a parent, if I can integrate Being and make my connection and relationship a mediation then even more wonderful! “The child has a deep longing for the parent to be there as a human being, not as a role, no matter how conscientiously that role is being played. You may be doing all the right things and the best you can for your child, but even doing the best you can is not enough. In fact doing is never enough if you neglect Being” Echart Tolle.

  3. Yes, balance is key 🙂

  4. containedd constant consciousness

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