Kids teach us a lot, though the biggest lesson may be how often our ideas of what they need and who they are turn out to be inaccurate.
I learned this some time back when I took my son, Navarre, swimming at an indoor pool that had a large yellow slide about five stories high. A new swimmer, he had been eyeing the slide for a number of weeks, waiting for the day he was ready to tackle it. This day, he was pretty sure, was the day. "Dad, I am ready to go down the slide," he told me.
"OK, Navarre," I said, "I will wait at the bottom of the slide to help you when you land in the water."
Up the stairs to the top of the slide he went while I waited patiently for him at the bottom. Two minutes later, however, back down the steps he walked.
"I am not quite ready yet," he said when he reached the bottom. "Maybe just give me a minute." He took a few deep breaths. "OK, I think I can do it now."
Up the stairs again he went. Two minutes later, down the steps he came.
This went on for a good twenty minutes, going about 6 times up and down the steps. Then the seventh time as I waited at the bottom of the slide, ready for him to walk down the stairs, I looked up to see a wave of blonde hair swishing down the slide, and then Navarre's face appeared, beaming.
Once he landed in the pool and made it to the side, I was eager to know what in the end pushed him through his fear of the slide. I wanted to know what helped him break through his resistance. I was looking for some deep insight that revealed a new approach to life, and all the better if it was something that he had learned from me.
"Awesome, Navarre," I said. "So, what was it that helped you break through that fear? How did you decide in the end to come down the slide?"
"Well, dad," he said, taking a breath, preparing to give his answer. "You see, I was standing up near the slide looking down, and then . . . then I slipped."
"You mean you never quite decided to come down?" I followed, wanting to make sure that I understood correctly.
"No, I slipped and just started going down."
"Yeah, it was so cool. I'm going to go down the slide again!" And he spent the next two hours going down the slide.
I then realized what a teaching this was: It is easy to think that "we" do acts, that "we" broke through our fears, that "we" accomplished some great feat, that "we" made something happen, but maybe the process, both personally and as parents, is less about trying to force change and more about showing up, being present, and knowing that when the time is ready, the universe will help make it happen. Our job, then, is to show up, be patient, and be willing to go with instead of fight the slip when it happens.
As they saying goes, "Enlightenment is an accident. Our job is to become accident-prone."
Soren Gordhamer is the author of Wisdom 2.0: Ancient Secrets for the Creative and Constantly Connected (HarperOne, 2009). Website: http://www.sorengordhamer.com.
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