Sunday, April 27, 2008

Has It Come To This?

Has it come to this? Have my children finally stepped over to the dark side? The one where all I hear is English, English, English all day long?

My children still speak German with me and my husband. I can revel in that joy (thank goodness) but that is about where it ends. Outside of the Mama-Papa sphere, English has taken over my children like an annoying virus.

My oldest insists that knights only speak English and therefore feels it is important to speak English when he is being a knight (which is pretty much 24/7 these days). My husband responds with a clearly worded (German) defense about how the shows my son has watched or books that he has read about knights have been translated from German or French or Spanish (etc.) into English. HAH, isn't my husband a tricky guy? He argues that the true language of knights are not English and therefore my son is not being completely authentic.

Ok, let's stop here to accept the fact that my husband is completely tinkering with the mind of our 6 year old - all in the name of language preservation! What will my son say to himself later down the road when he reads about all of those English-speaking knights in the British Isles? Will he turn to my husband and say, "Papa, I have lost all respect. It is over. I will never trust you again. You lied to me when I was 6 and you will forever have to bear the pain of that lie." Or will he simply throw it into the pile with the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy (we have yet to add her to our repertoire of fantasy figures who will one day be dispelled) once he learns the truth about them?

Aside from the fact that my husband told a blatant lie to my son to encourage him to speak German, it still didn't work. My son doesn't buy into that kind of weak argument. He is 6 years old and wants proof. We do have ONE book in German about knights which could be used as some kind of proof but what's the point, the English books win out 100 to 1 every time.

My husband feels frustrated and deflated. Course, that is what he gets for trying to win a battle of wits with his own 6 year old son!

I, on the other hand, focus on that age-old method of encouragement: when I hear English spoken between the kids, I call out "Hey, what about German?" Or, "Wouldn't it be fun to also play together in German?" But what is the use? To obtain the desired effect, my kids first have to hear me (HAH, like that will ever happen) and then I have to capture their hearts with my loving appeal which is hard to accomplish since they are still in the "what will I get out of it" stage of life.

The truth is, this is where our best laid out plans go their own merry way and we can't really do much about it other than try to steer things in a general direction.

For example, I insist that they speak with me in German by simply not responding when they speak to me in English (which is extremely rare so I can still go about it in a humorous, fun way). And I still continue to speak German with them (although, I do have to admit that I mix in a good amount of English words when I don't know the German equivalent).

I also know that in the end it is about enjoying the ride.

My husband and I are on the next stage of the roller coaster ride... things aren't as bumpy as before but we are still reminded that we haven't made it back to the platform either. We gotta keep our hands on the rail but other than that, wow, isn't this fun!? Wheeee!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Your Children Are My Children

When the Dalai Lama spoke of fostering compassion at the Seeds of Compassion events in Seattle, he brought up a concept which we often speak of but rarely practice with consistency (myself included). It is a concept which most of us don't even know HOW to foster on a daily basis.

This concept is caring for other children as we care for our own.

When we care for our own children, we want the best for them, no matter how they are behaving. We want to foster kindness in our children and self-esteem. We want them to wake up each morning full of joyful anticipation and snuggle into bed at night overflowing with feelings of safety and comfort. When our children grow older and get into trouble at school or engage in activities which harm them, we still love them with all of our hearts and want nothing more than to help them find their way in life again.

The Dalai Lama asks whether we can learn to feel a similar level of care for children other than our own who come into in our lives. Could we learn to feel a similar sense of responsibility and love for the children in our neighborhood, our children's school buddies, the children of our family friends as we do our own children?

I can't imagine that the Dalai Lama would expect us to have exactly the same degree of attentiveness. The point isn't to exhaust ourselves by focusing on the needs of every child with which we come into contact. If it is possible, then fabulous!

From listening to the Dalai Lama, my understanding is that he believes that we DO have the capacity to experience this level of care for ALL children in our lives. And if we continually fostered this level of care and concern every day of our lives, our world would be filled with a far greater level of compassion on a global scale. Remember: he says that when we give others true compassion, we ultimately foster compassion in the world as a whole.

What I have been doing lately is giving a truly conscious effort to see the good and precious and sacred in every child that crosses my path. Sometimes it isn't easy but I think it is less because I don't feel compassion but that I simply don't have the same natural level of connection that I do with my own children. It takes making an actual effort.

Of course, there are some kids that just drive me up the wall. They grate on my nerves and sometimes even intimidate me. Finding compassion for them can take more concentrated effort! However, they too receive a compassionate attentiveness from me. In fact, what I found is that once I give the effort to truly see these children and foster a care for them, I often end up experiencing an even deeper sense of compassion. It is possible to see the reasons that make them act the way that they do, and how can we not be compassionate for that!

How does the Dalai Lama expect us to get to the point where we can experience this sense of universal compassion for children in our hearts? How do we find what he calls unbiased or unlimited compassion?

He encourages us to perform a kind of contemplate meditation: to give deep thought about what it means to feel compassion toward all children. He firmly believes that it IS possible for each and every one of us to reach this point of compassion. Isn't that an absolutely decadent concept? The richness of a world filled with compassion and the desire for mutual understanding.

All that having been said...

Tonight I'm working hard to experience that abundance of pure and natural compassion for (1) my 4-year-old son who just threw a fit because he couldn't play the Sendung mit der Maus online games because it is way past bedtime, (2) my 6-year-old son who was supposed to be getting ready for bed but instead came into the livingroom with some kind of messy goop all over his foot and cried out, "Hey, look at my new shoe! HAH!" and (3) my 3-year-old daughter who received a sticker for this evening's homeschooling work but in the last 5 minutes has changed her mind about which sticker she wants at least ten times (each time crumpling the current sticker in her hand).

Ahhhh, the joys of finding compassion for our own children. Maybe the Dalai Lama had it all backwards? Could it be that the true task is to learn to have as much compassion for our own children as our sweet, kind, perfect, lovely neighbor children? Hmmm, next time I have the chance I'll ask him.

Either way, I'm sure the Dalai Lama would say to me: "Compassion begins at home!"

Monday, April 21, 2008

Why Should I Speak It If You Don't?

My husband and I often speak English with one another. In fact, we speak English with one another most of the time. It comes naturally since that was the language we spoke when we met 16 years ago on the Emerald Isle of Ireland, in Mary Ryan's Hostel in Galway. Wow, 16 years!!

I didn't speak a word of German at the time and my future husband was in Ireland to speak English - so it all worked out well. Of course, he wasn't looking for a future American wife and I wasn't looking for a future German husband. We were there to meet the Irish! Not other foreigners!

Well, be it as it may, we fell in love and I ended up taking a leave of absence from my studies to spend two years in Germany with my future husband where we finally tied the knot and moved to Seattle, Washington.

While in Germany I spent grueling hours at the Volkshochschule followed by even more grueling hours at the university in Kiel learning German. Textwiedergabe - I remember that word clearly and it can still bring dread up my spine and fear into my heart. The ultimate of torture touted as "learning German." Ugh, I can still remember sitting there with my pencil poised for the moment of truth.

That coupled with trying to pronounce the letters ä, ö and ü while a kind-hearted teacher squishes your mouth into place was enough to make me want to fall to the floor and plead for mercy. "Try saying "eee" while rounding your lips like this," the teacher would say. "Ok, yea, I get it but now how do I remember all of that while trying to use that sound in the middle of a word which is in the middle of a sentence!?" would be my exasperated reply.

In any case, tonight my 6-year-old son heard my husband and I speaking English with one another and promptly said to us (in German), "Why are us kids supposed to speak German together while you two speak English with one another?" My husband and I looked at one another and and said (in German), "You are right! We should be speaking German. Ok, here is the deal, we'll speak German with one another from now on and you'll agree to speak more German with your siblings, ok?" Our son pursed his lips to think about the deal. He clearly smelled something rotten. And then I quickly added, "And you stop calling me Corey and just call me Mama from now on, ok?" Our son started to look at us with clear suspicion while my husband topped it off with, "And you will always call me Papa, ok?"

Well, let's just say that we all eventually shook on it and agreed to the terms. Whether my son has any idea of what he really agreed to will be seen soon enough. I think he would have agreed to anything just to get the heck away from his crazy, begging, pleading parents.

Is this what a bilingual family has come down to? Making language deals over the dinner table? Well, if it works it is worth it right? I guess I had better remember to speak German with my husband from now on! I mean, a deal IS a deal, right?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Stop Calling Me That!

My children have developed a bilingual habit which is starting to drive me crazy!

At the beginning, when my children first started speaking, they called me "Mama." I identified myself to them as Mama and so they followed suit. This all came very naturally and easily and I gave it very little thought.

Me=Mama and their father=Papa.

That was until I started noticing that my children were saying "Corey" much of the time. I noticed it most when they were speaking to one another (vs. speaking to me) and figured it was just a cute way for them to identify me by my given name. Little did I realize that it was going to start driving me crazy with frustration.

It wasn't until recently that I noticed that they were saying Corey when in conversation with one another in English. And that they were even calling out to me saying Corey rather than Mama! For example, if they were playing in the living room in English and wanted to get my attention, they'd call out, "Corey!" And if an English-speaking person was around with whom they were speaking, they would use the name Corey when talking about me to them!

Everyone we know thinks it is absolutely adorable. "How cute that they call you Corey!" they say.

And what about me? What do I think about it? It is making me want to sit those little bilinguals down and give them a long lesson in linguistics.

Instead, I started by asking them (calmly) why they call me Corey instead of Mama. They clearly identified the situation by stating matter-of-factly that when they speak English they say Corey and when they speak German they say Mama. "Mama is German, Corey is English," they tell me full of conviction. As if they were teaching me the translation of my name in each language!

After a while I started bugging them about it. "I wish you'd just call me Mama all of the time. I am still your Mama whether you are speaking English or German." They looked at me with a questionable look and said, "We'll think about it."

Ah, so, is that where things have progressed? They get to decide what they want to call me after a joint bilingual sibling consultation? Am I to have no say in the matter? I'm their Mama for goodness sakes!

As of today, they still call me Corey in English and Mama in German. They have not been convinced by my explanations and pleading in the least.

But little do they know that I have raised the stakes (or lowered my pride) and I now shamelessly complain to them in nothing less than a childish manner. "It makes me so sad when you call me Corey. Don't call me that anymore, ok? Just call me Mama all of the time!" I am delighted to say that I did stop short of bribery: "If you only call me Mama from now on I'll give you some candy!"

In the end, I realize that I have little say in the matter. My 6, 4 and 3 year olds are bilinguals destined to make language choices based on nothing but what makes most sense to them. That is their right to use language as they see fit, isn't it?

I can go blue in the face complaining, begging and insisting but I fear that when push comes to shove, I'll forever be half Mama and half Corey in the eyes of my little bilinguals. I guess there are worse things to worry about! At least they are still speaking German with me.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Seeds of Compassion: The Roving Reporter (or not)

Sorry for the delay in posting about the Dalai Lama. Talk about poor reporting etiquette!

It isn't that I didn't want to continue blogging about this tremendous event. It was simply the fact that when it comes down to it, I am only part roving reporter and mainly a mom of three kids, an employee for a software company and a wife to a busy parent. First things first.

However, I have to admit, I thoroughly enjoyed my few days of being the roving reporter: chasing the story as it unfolds, capturing photos which embody each event, taking copious notes, driving from event to event, packing my camera bag each night with only essentials (digital SLR, video camera, pad of paper and pen, press passes, two apples for moments of hunger, and numerous forms of identification) knowing that I'd have to be ready to act quickly: living the lean and mean life of a reporter.

Well, let's say, I enjoyed IMAGINING that I was the lean and mean roving reporter. The reality is I ended up promptly coming down with a cold (sore throat, cough, runny nose and head ache). I believe it was because rather than being the "mean and lean roving reporter," of my imagination, I am, in reality, the "stress-case, worried, anxious roving reporter." I'm sure in time I'd work out all of these stress-related reporter kinks but it didn't happen in the last week, that's for sure, and took its toll on my health.

Here are some roving reporter highlights:

I was annoyed to no end for having to pay $25 to park in the Qwest field parking garage on the 6th floor (the press entry was there) and for not having found alternative parking ahead of time. Other reporters were annoyed as well but just laughed and said, "Ah well, at least we can expense it." A clear difference between me the little freelance reporter (where expensing means adding it to her tax return somewhere) and those who work for someone else who takes care of all of the tax details.

I was constantly worried that I'd get stuck in traffic and miss something (anyone who lives in Seattle will know what I mean: traffic is either great or suddenly horrible stop-and-go for miles and miles).

"Did I remember my press passes?" I'd ask myself a few times each morning. Then I'd wonder, "Did I recharge the camera battery?" or "Where did I put my keys again?"

Being that I wanted to do it all (take great photos, write up the most important highlights of the event, video tape just the right bits, interview some insightful people, purchase just a few pieces of memorabilia) I was always a little frantic. I'm sure those around me started feeling freaked out just watching me!

For goodness sakes, I was there to see and listen to the Dalai Lama and here I was feeling overwhelmed and exhausted - all from my own silly desire to do it all.

However, not all was lost on my frenetic silliness.

There were moments when I just put my photographic equipment away, breathed a sigh and let the moment fill me with awesome joy. Yes, there were moments when I even became teary-eyed and couldn't imagine being happier and more content. It wasn't always just from the words of the Dalai Lama. It was from looking around and seeing the faces of others caught up in the moment. It was from the rawness of the moment - people letting themselves feel vulnerable and open, teary-eyed and connected on a deep level.

Which brings me to my difficult relationship with groups: On the one hand I love being a part of them but on the other hand I feel confined and defensive. I often have a hard time letting go and losing myself when in a group of people. Someone is talking a few rows back, the speaker's voice grates on my nerves a bit, the sound system lacks in quality. I tend to prefer letting go and finding enlightenment alone on my own terms.

Yet on the other hand, I delight just being part of something large and all-consuming. When I looked around the stadium at each event I was captured by the fact that so many people were all sitting in one place at the same time hearing the same words and seeing the same images as me. For that it doesn't really matter whether someone is sitting right next to the Dalai Lama or on the other side of the stadium. The feel of the weight of the moment is powerful regardless.

Therefore, I am not quite sure what to say in terms of "reporting" on the Dalai Lama event. What can I say that can truly capture the event?

This is what I have taken from the series of events which I attended:

Find out what works for you. Compassion is not necessarily about any religion in particular, it isn't even about spirituality if viewing it through that lens turns you off. It is about finding what works for you so that you can go from understanding and conceptualizing compassion to acting on it to make the world a better place for our children (and ourselves). If that is through a religious context then that is wonderful, if it isn't, then that is wonderful too.

The Dalai Lama encourages a kind of contemplative, analytical meditation for creating compassion in our lives. It is an engaging task, not something in which we sit on the sidelines and watch. How we go about this analytical meditation is again based on our personality. Perhaps we need to set aside an hour each day for contemplation? Or maybe we can at least commit to turning off the radio in the car during our commute and spending that time on contemplation? Or maybe we should put on some soothing music for half and hour and spend that time contemplating our lives and how we can foster more compassion? The key is simply taking the time to focus on this rather than assuming it will just magically happen.

This kind of analytical contemplation is an interactive one. It may mean we need to start by looking at our lives and asking some hard questions (and then acting on changing things for the better). What is holding us up from finding true compassion for ourselves and others in our lives? Are there things in our lives which are straining our nerves and causing us to have a short fuse with others? What can we do to solve this?

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, the Dalai Lama discusses two different kinds of compassion: the biased=limited one and the unbiased=unlimited one. We need to strive to imbue our lives with the unbiased=unlimited one. This kind of compassion is about being able to understand another person, country, custom, event even if we aren't in agreement. It isn't about condoning actions but about understanding where others are coming from via their perspective and moving toward them from that standpoint. This isn't easy without giving it some effort and concentration.

Action is key. We can think about compassion, feel compassionate and want to be compassionate with others but then we need to actually do something about it. This starts with ourselves, then our children and spouses, then our mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers, then out to other family and friends, communities, neighborhoods and as wide as possible. We make sure to spend alone time to reflect and recharge. We take the time to be truly present with our children and spouse. We join with our communities to renovate parks and collect donations for the poor. We volunteer at local food banks and volunteer at events. We find things which fit with our personalities (some people aren't as out-going so maybe they can volunteer behind the scenes rather out front with the public).

Compassion feeds the soul. The Dalai Lama reminds us that through such compassionate actions, we will be feeding our soul, our heart, our minds, our spirits. Whatever we want to call it, through compassionate acts we get in touch with our true selves and find that warmth inside. It is the most satisfying food we can feed ourselves. It is ironic in some ways but through true acts of compassion, we gain the greatest benefits! How very selfish in some delightful way.

Viewed historically, the primary concepts about which the Dalai Lama speaks are really nothing new. People have been discussing such things for hundreds and hundreds of years. However, having the Dalai Lama come to town (or other such spiritual leaders) is a kind of reminder for us all. A wake-up call even. His words remind me that as a country, I feel the United States has become very cynical. Getting in touch with the more raw and vulnerable bits of ourselves is seen as weakness, and weakness is not a good quality in the "home of the free." Praiseworthy are often qualities such as wealthy, cool, popular, busy, efficient, tireless, reliable. Sure, we don't necessarily admit this but these traits come up as praiseworthy in casual conversations all of the time. And our children watch and learn this from us. They learn that making a lot of money is something to strive toward, that being number one and at the top is what we should all strive toward, that having lots of friends is better than knowing only a few people.

To end, I apologize for this not being a traditional report about the Dalai Lama's visit to Seattle. I find that since each of his events are available via the Seeds of Compassion website, that my personal reflections inspired by his visit may also have some value here. I know that many of you are reading my blog and I appreciate your emails! They are full of wonderful insights, thoughts and reflections!

Finally, I leave you with a comment from a baggy-pants teenager after the Monday event. I listened as he and his buddies chatted on the way out:

"I couldn't understand a thing that guy said. But he was really cute, wasn't he? A really nice, funny guy."

I'm sure the Dalai Lama would have loved the reference to himself as "that guy" and that what was remembered was that he was cute, nice and funny.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Seeds of Compassion, Day 3: Bringing the Children Together

What a crowd today! What happens when thousands of school-age children come together in one stadium to see the Dalai Lama? You get an excitement and energy like none other!

Today the Key Arena in Seattle was filled with children bussed in from all around the Seattle area. It was hard to even get into the media entrance with so many chattering and excited children and teachers waiting in masses outside! I'm sure much of the fun for everyone there was getting out of the classroom on a Monday!

Inside the stadium was teeming with a buzzing of voices, laughter, shouting and noise. During the event, children were cheering from their seats, clapping after every presentation and deafened the stadium when the 7th grade international children's ambassador went onto the stage and spoke to the crowd. Perhaps this is what happens when you get a bunch of children together: fun! Is it as the Dalai Lama says: children are simply more honest about what is in their hearts.

What was most inspiring about having the Dalai Lama here in Seattle was the permission he gave us to be open, fragile, vulnerable and, yes, compassionate. I do believe we need to give ourselves permission to experience what it feels like to be compassionate - to allow our hearts to fill with love (rather than cynicism), to fill with joy (rather than fear), to fill with forgiveness (rather than competition). We have to make a conscious effort to push away everything which tells us that financial success and economic accomplishment the most important. It can be extremely hard to consider that those statements are actually off track - I feel the pull of it every day around me!

What happened to allowing ourselves to be human? Perhaps when we allow ourselves to be full human beings (wise, fragile, intelligent, insecure, alive) we will automatically remember what compassion is all about? I'm not sure but I sometimes believe that when I let down my guard and throw off all of the weights of society pushing me down that I am instantly able to be compassionate again (and in turn to be a better member of society). Sometimes I think it is so easy: just let go and let myself fall into the direction my soul is taking me.

I have a bunch of photos but haven't yet got around to sorting through them. I'm not sure how to present them: Should I do a photo blog or just add them back into the previous blogs.?I'll have to think about how to best go about it. Until then I'll leave everyone with the link to today's amazing event: (go to the Children & Youth Day event).

Kind thoughts to every one of you out there!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Seeds of Compassion, Day 3: Compassion in Action

Today everything was different! Although the two events yesterday were large, they felt intimate compared to today's event in Qwest Field stadium.

For those of you who don't live in Seattle, Qwest Field is the home of the Seahawks, the Seattle football team (as well as other events). Being that I don't follow football, I have never attended a game at Qwest field. Thus, I was in awe of the size of Qwest field.

I arrived much too early but I had hoped to attend an event in an auditorium right off Qwest field but they hadn't done a very good job organizationally explaining that the press would have to choose one or the other event. So, a bunch of us ended up milling about Qwest field for a few hours.

One of the enjoyable activities I experienced was walking back and forth across the field itself. As I said, the stadium is enormous and to walk across that grass at the base of it was nothing less than awesome. I don't think I have ever stood in the middle of a stadium field! To extend my time on the field, I just took photos now and then: the stage where the Dalai Lama and the Washington State Governor would be standing, the Seattle skyline behind the stadium, the bleachers, basically whatever looked like it could be photographed.

There is much to write about this event but I am simply and utterly exhausted. In the meantime, if you want to see what I have been seeing, just go to: - you can see all three events which I attended as well as the evening event last night with David Matthews!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Seeds of Compassion, Day 2: The Scientific Basis for Compassion

Did you know that brain researchers can actually see a difference in brain activity when a person is feeling compassion? Did you know that children actually grow more when cared for by a loving caregiver? Do you know what the Dalai Lama's two different kinds of compassion are?

Today was a day to discuss the Scientific Basis for Compassion.

As many know, the Dalai Lama is very interested in the research of scientists. He doesn't feel that science is a threat to spirituality and religions. If anything, he sees how science can augment our beliefs gained from other areas in our life.

Today the Seeds of Compassion events started off at the University of Washington Bank of America Pavilion. I had to drive since I only had half an hour to get from the first event to the second. Aside from the guilt I felt about driving (and always do), I was out $11 for the parking - sheesh, no press parking!? But this was a small price to pay for the chance to attend this wonderful event.

I must say that the care given to the press is fabulous (either that or they want to make sure the press don't mill about randomly taking photographs where they shouldn't). After checking in (via the media entrance - so cool!), I was personally escorted to exactly where the press seats were located - a big block at the back of the floor seating. Not exactly close to where the Dalai Lama would be sitting but I wasn't about to complain.

Overall, though, my feeling about the life of a press person was a little less glamorous than last night. Unfortunately I saw many people jaded by the process (probably mainly the grunt workers who do all of the unglamorous work). I'm sure this is an oversimplification but many seemed completely undaunted by the fact that the Dalai Lama would be on stage soon. It could be that they simply weren't interested in this event or the Dalai Lama but it reminded me of how easy it is for us to become bored even with the extraordinary (let alone the ordinary).

I worry that if I had that kind of job day in and day out that I too would slowly forget how special even the ordinary moments of being part of the media could be. Not that we should feel arrogant or above others, but delighted in our great fortune! However, that having been said, the press were definitely there to report and that they did!

Today's first event was attended by Daniel Goleman (Moderator), Richard Davidson, Alicia Lieberman, Daniel J Siegel, Andrew Meltzoff and, of course, the Dalai Lama. Many of these names you will recognize from studies on the importance of social and emotional "intelligence."

The second event was attended by Mark Greenberg (Moderator), His Holiness the Dalai Lama, John Gottman, Mary Gordon, Roger Weissberg, Karen Gordon and Bob Marvin. Another great panel who focused on social and emotional interactions throughout the life span.

Both times when the Dalai Lama entered the room, everyone stood and applauded. He bowed many times and beamed his generous smile for all. It was an awesome moment!

For some reason I knew that the Dalai Lama had quite a sense of humor but for the life of me I can't remember where I had seen him (YouTube??)! His way was so natural and comfortable: He sat cross-legged on his chair and listened to what each panelist had to say (often with the help of his translator) and nodded in understanding. When asked a question by one of the panelists, he gave his answer thought, sometimes turning to his translator for help with a given expression or word.

Many times during the day I was struck with the contrast between the easy-going, relaxed, humorous, even silly nature of the Dalai Lama and the mature, elegant, adult-ness of the panelists. I was again filled with the realization of our seeming need to exhaust ourselves with the need to be cool and mature and wanted (not that the panelists were acting in such ways).

There sat the Dalai Lama teaching us about how to attain a compassionate nature and it was almost too simple for us to grasp: Have we created such a complex world? Are we unable to find true compassion because of the constructs of our surroundings which won't allow this to happen? The Dalai Lama indicated this when he said that he firmly believes that we are in our current predicament because of our own man-made constructs (and he emphasizes the word "man" vs "women"). He suggests that we have created such a level of complexity that we now must live in this world based on what we have constructed. We are now dependent upon the world for our survival and happiness. He emphasized that it used to be that a community would depend upon itself and together they would have a vested interest for one another and each member in the community (as we do for a family). Nowadays we have created such a web of global complexity that we ultimately feel helpless.

The solution to our current situation, he urges, is to understand that every action and choice we make ultimately influences every other person on this world (even if we can't feel the direct connection and see the ultimate results as we do in a smaller community). We need to take responsibility for the complexities which we have constructed and learn to find compassion for our whole global community.

Will science help us realize the importance of compassion and empathy in not only our lives but in the world as a whole? Perhaps it will be science which can help bring us back to our intrinsic intuition of what is right and good? Will understanding the workings of compassion in our minds give us answers?

Aside from the general premise of the discussions today, here are some key points which I took away from the event (you can see the events yourself here and form your own conclusions:

(1) Everyday when we wake up, let's look at our children and promise ourselves that we will always see them as valued, cherished, and precious to us - even when they are acting poorly - and find ways to continually treat them with the compassion which we would want in return. This is the first step in creating global compassion. Just because our children are small, it doesn't mean they aren't learning in leaps and bounds - preparation for their adult lives!

(2) Babies learn when they are excited, attentive and attuned with that which they are engaged. How a child feels affects how they will learn - this goes from infants all the way through to adults (but the younger we are creates patterns for later in life).

(3) We need to stop thinking that raising our children to be emotionally and socially enriched means tons of play-dates and activities. Examples within the family are the basis for how our children will learn what it means to be emotional and socially involved.

(4) Children learn more in their first 5 years of life than the rest of their lives put together (Meltzhoff). Babies brains are extremely plastic and their favorite plaything is us: their parents! They have an innate sense of curiosity and will learn everything they can on their own if we just let them go about it!

(5) We CAN change our brains when we get older. We aren't stuck forever in a specific pattern. But this may mean work on our part. The Dalai Lama recommends "reflective meditation." Not necessarily the kind of meditation where we sit and watch the thoughts of our mind. Instead we should practice a kind of meditation where we reflect on elements on which we need to focus.

(6) A large element of creating compassion in ourselves and others is simply responding to others as if to say, "I see you." "I hear what you are saying." "I acknowledge that you said something to me and I heard it (even if I don't agree)." The same is true for children. Show them that you are there for them. Pick up babies when they are crying! Each time you do this you are teaching them that you love them and that they can rely on you. Look your toddler in the eye (at eye-level) and tell him that you understand that he wants that toy and that you know how much it hurts that he can't have it. Give him an outlet for expressing the feelings he has inside when he wants something so much that it makes him cry.

(7) The pre-frontalcortex is where the ability to remain calm in a stressful situation resides. It is also where empathy resides and where we can regulate our emotions (Siegel). If we understand how the brain works in this way, then when we get frustrated or angry with our children, we can understand that it is also possible to calm ourselves down. It takes time and focus but this IS something we can work on to change in our brain patterns by creating more constructive patterns.

(8) We need to learn to override our desire for short-term gain for the long-term gain when it comes to our reactions and emotions (Dalai Lama). We lash out and when we do so it feels good for the short term but it has long-term consequences. The right path is to think about the long-term goal of happiness which comes from always striving for compassionate thinking.

(9) There are two kinds of compassion: (1) biased = limited and (2) unbiased = unlimited (Dalai Lama). The biased/limited is found biologically in most animals. Unbiased/unlimited comes with the help of intelligence. The understanding that we are all one in the same human species and we need one another to survive. Limited compassion can not extend to our enemy but unlimited can - primarily through training our mind with a concentrated effort (not a religious effort but through common sense and experience).

(10) When we are younger we are more able to forgive: we argue often but then quickly make up and forgive (Dalai Lama). We let things go, we don't hold on to them and let them fester. But as we get older, we hold onto bitter angers and hate - this is what we need to try and dissipate within ourselves so that compassion can take its place.

(11) Now that we all have such a high degree of knowledge about how we should treat one another, the key is turning all of this knowledge into action (Talaris Institute Founder).

(12) A University of Pittsburgh study with children in orphanages showed that children who do not have any bond with a caregiver tend to be aggressive and violent. However, when these same children were provided a bond with a continual, comforting care from a caregiver, the children actually start to grow more physically and their aggression decreased! This is the influence that a loving bond from parents can produce. Suffering emotionally can affect the whole body.

(13) The kind of interaction from both mother and father is important. Mothers tend to repeat an activity with a child over and over again, even if the child isn't very interested. Fathers tend to get bored with an activity if a child isn't interested and will either focus on something else or leave the child to seek out the father and engage him. In this way, a child learns different methods of interaction and social engagement. (Gottman)

(14) Schools need to do much, much more than they are doing in helping to provide more social and emotional education. School should NOT be just about academics. This can easily be added into everyday interactions: for example, a new child comes to school and the class discusses how to best make the child feel comfortable. And parents need to understand, support and appreciate this in the school system rather than just looking at academics! (Gordon / Weissberg)

(15) 67% of parents in the USA end up going through a very difficult time (some divorce) when their first child is born. It is as if they weren't prepared for the effort and changes involved with a new baby in their lives (Gottman). This surprised the Dalai Lama who said that what it indicates to him is the lack of responsibility that parents are taking when they start a new life. If they have no children and decide to go their separate ways, that is one thing. But if we decide to start a family, then it is our responsibility to do all that we can to make it work. The Dalai Lama feels this needs to come through via some kind of educational system (if it isn't being automatically learned in the home as a person grows up).

(16) Finally, the main point that the Dalai Lama wanted to emphasize at the end of the event was that compassion is not just wishful thinking, it is about ACTION. Compassion needs to move beyond our conceptualizations and into action - we need to start by treating our children with compassion and then go from there: our spouse, our mother and father, our neighbor, our grandparents, etc.

This was a wonderful day full of information! I will head off to bed now and see what awaits me tomorrow. Luckily we have some wonderful friends who will take care of our kids tomorrow during the event! What would we do without wonderful neighbors, families and friends?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Seeds of Compassion, Day 1: What It's All About

At tonight's press preview I was able to get a better understanding of what, exactly, this Seeds of Compassion event has as its goal.

Here is a quote straight from the press release: "Seeds of Compassion is an initiative to bring world attention to the importance of nurturing kindness and compassion beginning with children and extending to all who touch their lives." Thus, the focus is on the youngest member of our society and radiates out to the rest of us.

An emphasis of the press preview was that as parents we already know that what our children learn from us is what they will imitate and ultimately radiate (especially during the first 5 years of life). Thus, if we treat others with compassion, our children will learn this from us and radiate compassion (and in turn will instill a desire to radiate compassion in others)!

"Now is the time to launch a global compassion movement, a sustainable effort that will raise people's awareness of the importance of compassion," said Lama Tenzin Dhonden, co-founder of Seeds of Compassion. "Together we can create a more compassionate society for the children of the world."

The first vision of what ultimately became today's Seeds of Compassion event started in 2005 as a discussion between Venerable Tenzin Dhonden, the Personal Emissary of Peace for the Dalai Lama, and Dan Kranzler, president of the Kirlin Charitable Foundation. Their vision was to focus world attention on the following:
- Our communities need thoughtful, creative adults who are actively engaged citizens.
- Our global society needs people equipped to communicate across cultures and address differences through understanding and collaborative problem solving.
- These qualities must take root in early childhood.
- When children build from strong foundations emotionally, socially, and cognitively, they can develop into compassionate adults.

Those of you who visit and read Multilingual Living Magazine already know and believe in the power of our children to change the world (especially the ability to communicate across cultures). You already know that our children truly ARE our future global citizens and ambassadors. However, the question is whether we are giving them the tools they need to go out into the world as empathetic adults and globally compassionate citizens of the world.

What are these tools? And how do we provide these tools to our children?

This is the whole focus of this 5-day event. There isn't necessarily one, specific answer which we all can follow. But the hope is that by getting a number of experts together, we may be able to discover some basic truths.

One place to start looking for answers is in the brains of children. This will be the topic for tomorrow's Seeds of Compassionate events. The following is from press material: "Recent research studies indicate that the ability to demonstrate compassion is closely tied to the brain and biology -- children demonstrate sympathy as young as three-and-a-half years of age. By the time a child turns five as much as 80% of the brain's architecture is already developed. The formation of these neuropathways is profoundly influenced by the quality of the child's early relationships."

Who can truly understand this need for global empathy and compassion more than families raising children in more than one language and culture. You live with the need to embrace multiple language, cultures, values, loyalties every day! Whether you are raising your children this way because you and your spouse come from different cultures or because you feel the strong need to instill in your children your own great love for global respect and understanding - either way, you get it! You understand this!

The next step is to ask ourselves what we DO to participate in the world as globally compassionate citizens. Our actions are what count in the end.

Seeds of Compassion, Day 1: Part of the Press

I'm in! I'm press credentialed for the Seeds of Compassion event! I was even able to talk them into letting me add another event on Monday.

This afternoon (with my kids safe in the hands of our kind neighbor) I headed downtown to pick up my press credentials and attended the press review session.

Let me just pause for a moment to say how amazing this was for me! There is something really fabulous about being able to sit there elbow to elbow with 30-40 media folks chattering away about current news stories that they are working on or concepts for future ones - as if they were just hanging out discussing last night's game. I distinctly recall one moment when I was sitting there surrounded by everyone and thought to myself, "This is just sooooo cool!"

At the back of the room were cameras lined up atop a raised area in the floor and in the front row were casually dressed photographers with professional cameras in hand. Throughout were people milling around, taking notes, filming and more. Clearly some were important in the media but I wasn't sure who they were. And the funniest was that as far as they knew, I was important as well. Note that dressing well in Seattle doesn't really mean anything - you need to be prepared for the shabbily-dressed person you are talking with to be a millionaire living next to Bill Gates or the mastermind behind the biggest TV station in town! Thus someone like me has the potential to be the Editor-in-Chief of some big publishing house. HAH!

At one point a door from the side of the room opened and in came the organizers of the event: Venerable Lama Tenzin Dhonden (Co-Founder, Seeds of Compassion), Daniel Kranzler (President, Kirlin Charitable Foundation and Co-Founder, Seeds of Compassion), Raj Manhas (Executive Director, Seeds of Compassion), William Bell (President and CEO of Casey Family Programs), John Vadino (Executive Producer, Seeds of Compassion), Andrew Meltzoff (Co-Director, University of Washington Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences) and Pamela Eakes (Communications Director of Seeds of Compassion).

Remember this wasn't a press conference, this was a media preview (getting the media ready for the 5-day event) so it wasn't as crazy as it would have been had it been a press conference.

As each speaker took their turn at the podium and introduced a segment of the Seeds of Compassion event, cameras went off like wild and photographers carefully made their way back and forth across the room. After the speakers were done, the press asked questions about the logistics of the event: they wanted to know if there definitely will be a press conference with the Dalai Lama (the answer was, "It is being planned."), what kind of live feed would be provided for those filming the event, whether there would be wifi for their laptops, how far away from the Dalai Lama the press would be for certain events (we'll be located at the 50 yard line for one event in the football stadium). Before I knew it, I found myself thinking of all of the things I should bring the next day, especially my little hand-held video camera for interviewing the public (I heard another press person say how they wanted to "get into the audience for some interviews"). Sure, they may have their big, fancy, professional cameras. I'll just work on the lower end of the budget range and put my stuff on and YouTube! Nothing wrong with that!

Speaking of equipment, once the speakers were at the podium, I quickly realized the limitations of my Nikon D80 as well as the limitations of my photographic knowledge: The room was too dark for my camera (at least on the settings I had it) to capture the speakers yet the flash was not strong enough to illuminate them. However, the photographer next to me (and the majority of other photographers) had no trouble capturing fabulous photos without a flash. Grrr. I must speak with my husband tonight to get a quick rundown on how to adjust the settings. I did notice a few guys sizing me up based on my camera - I don't think I really made the press photographer grade (which I'm ok with).

The intention of the Seeds of Compassion event is truly inspirational... I will write about it in the next blog entry. I will say that it is all about families and kids and exactly what multicultural and multilingual families around the world are already striving for!

Seeds of Compassion, Day 1: Press Credentials

A few days ago I received an email from the Seeds of Compassion media coordinators that I had been approved for press credentials to attend some of the Seeds of Compassion events (an event lead by the Dalai Lama)! I am still reeling a bit from the news and definitely excited beyond description. I'm sure all of you seasoned reporters out there will take this with a grain of salt but for me this whole thing leaves me speechless! Me, press credentials? Yippeee!

I could go into the details of how I somehow missed out on the myriad of opportunities to get regular tickets and was left without any option of seeing the Dalai Lama... but it would take too long and let's stick to the point here: the Dalai Lama is in town and I have been granted press credentials to see him - wow, simply amazing!

Things will start this afternoon: picking up my press credentials downtown WITHOUT THE KIDS. Being that I am technically a stay-at-home mom on Thursdays and Fridays while my husband is at work, and being that the Seeds of Compassion media coordinators said that bringing the kids wouldn't be a good idea (gee, any other way I could show how inexperienced I am in these things) I started begging people to watch the kids last night at 9:39 pm.

In the end, our dear neighbor agreed to take care of my kids while I travel downtown to pick up my press credentials and participate in the press preview. I feel especially guilty since he is the only person in his whole family who won't get to attend any of the Dalai Lama events (he wasn't able to get a ticket). It seems almost unkind to ask him to watch the kids in such a situation. However, this is important! I am on a mission and must charge ahead (gosh, is that devoid of compassion or what!?)

As for the event itself, I HIGHLY doubt I will be able to ask any questions or even get very close to the Dalai Lama or others leading the events. Nevertheless, I ask myself, what WOULD I ask the Dalai Lama IF I could?

Would I come up with some profound question which would leave the other reporters nodding their heads in agreement and then asking themselves, "Who IS that inspirational press person over there?" "She is with WHICH publication? Multilingual Living Magazine? I will definitely have to learn more about her and that magazine! Maybe we can get her on board with our publication!" And they proceed to write down my name and the magazine's name and I'm feeling special and inspired and important and, dare I say, full of myself!

HAH! How I make myself laugh!

Ok, the reality is that if I could ask something I'd probably start with a few "Ummms" and "Errrs" and then fumble around with some kind of jumbled question which went nowhere and in the end the Dalai Lama would have to ask the person next to him "What EXACTLY was the question?" with a quizzical look on his face (yet a kind, compassionate smile). The other press people would look over at me (who was certainly beet red in the face with embarrassment) and ask themselves, "Who the heck let her in here!?" I'd look around, smile and then pretend that I was invisible (like my daughter when she wants to pretend like no one can see her, she wrinkles her forehead and just looks away in another direction until the attention on her has passed).

Actually, the first thought that comes to mind right now is to tell him is how much I have enjoyed that Christmas calendar which I purchased for myself and my family and a few of my friends (and which I have on my desk at work) with daily quotes from him. Gosh, is that pathetic or what!? Talk about extremely un-deep and un-profound!

Seriously, though, what would I ask him? What should I ask him?

What would YOU ask the Dalai Lama?
What thoughts would YOU share with him?
What would be on YOUR mind?

Tell me so that I can write them down (just in case)! You wouldn't want me turning beet red, now, would you?

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Dalai Lama is Coming to Town!

"True compassion is not just an emotional response,
but a firm commitment founded on reason."

The Dalai Lama

His Holiness the Dalai Lama is going to be in Seattle this month! He will be leading an event titled Seeds of Compassion:

I find that the Dalai Lama's message is so important for families around the world raising children in more than one language and culture, primarily because we have such valuable knowledge, resources and experiences to contribute! Here are examples of two primary ones (from a myriad of others):

(1) Those of us who have come to feel a deep love for more than one language and culture understand the powerful force of global compassion. We cannot help but recognize that "the others" are also us; that cultural and linguistic divisions are artificial definitions created in our minds. The question is whether we continue to strive to maintain this appreciation for the differences in the world or slowly allow ourselves to resent anything that alters our status quo.

(2) Our children are truly the ambassadors of generations to come. What they learn from us today as we raise them will be their foundation for global compassion. Do we imbue our children with a love for the world? Do we honestly instill in them an appreciation for humanity no matter what a person's language, culture, skin color or standard of living is? We need to ask ourselves this question honestly and decide if we are helping to foster compassion in our children or further widening the divide. It isn't about what we say to them, it comes from our children witnessing how we treat others and the things we say about others.

Ultimately, compassion is about letting go of fears - fears of "the others" because they do things differently: they speak a different language, they act differently, they don't smile back when we smile, they dress strangely... even those who have done something mean to us. The moment we label others, we instantaneously create a divide between them and us. As many wise humans have said: the moment we label something as good, then something else receives a label as bad (vs not labeling something as either).

The fact that we create a label is not really the issue (creating a label is our natural human response to want to understand and define a person and situation). The issue is about how we ultimately react to the label we have created. Will we treat that person worse because they wear their hair differently? Will we gossip about them behind their back, saying how strange they are and how much we don't like them? Or will we recognize that yes, we have indeed created a label but that actually we aren't really sure of anything about that other person and even if we did, we should refrain from talking about them behind their back?

Is it possible to have compassion even for those who do things which we find offensive? Yes! It doesn't mean we condone what they do and it doesn't mean that we don't speak up and say that what they are doing is reprehensible to us. Having compassion for others is about understanding that they are doing the best they can in their current predicament and state of mind (yet we do so without feeling a sense of superiority and arrogance).

As the Dalai Lama says: we ALL want peace in our lives, we ALL want to be compassionate beings. Even those who are acting cruelly ultimately want to be compassionate and loving. For whatever reason, they are not able to find that way just yet. But if we can find compassion in our own hearts, then we can show them what it means to be compassionate no matter the circumstances and will be there when they reach out their hand in need. However, if we do so with a "better than thou" attitude, then we should actually be questioning our own motivations and our own relationship with compassion first before attempting to be an example for others.

I'm not sure whether I'll be able to see the Dalai Lama or not when he is in Seattle. If I can't, I will still revel in the joy that he will be nearby for 5 days.

Check out for more information about the Dalai Lama's time in Seattle.