David Gans (tnf) Wed 23 Dec 98 11:40
Our next guest is PHIL CATALFO (firstname.lastname@example.org), an editor at Yoga Journal and the author of "Raising Spiritual Children in a Material World" (Berkley Books, 1997). The ideas set forth in "Raising Spiritual Children" were put to a horrible test over the last seven years, as Phil's middle kid, Gabe, struggled with leukemia - a battle he "lost" on November 4. Phil and Gabe are heroes in the WELL community, where Phil documented every step of the physical, medical and spiritual journey from diagnosis to memorial service and beyond in a series of topics in the parenting conference (salso linked to the health conference). I, and many others, have been encouraging Phil to publish that journal. I encourage our web visitors to join the WELL and read the story in place, with all the dialogue that accompanies Phil's account. There have been some amaz- ing life experiences told in the WELL's almost 14 years of existence, but few stories in any medium have the power of Gabe's. I will confess that I haven't yet finished reading "Raising Spiritual Children in a Material World" (subtitle: "Introducing Spirituality into Family Life"), so let's begin by saying Hey to Phil Catalfo and asking him to tell us a little about himself and the book.
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Wed 23 Dec 98 15:27
Gary Gach (ggg) Wed 23 Dec 98 21:07
Hye, Phil. Am looking forward too, to hearing a bit about yourself ... your recent focus ... (and, say, for us Well-ites, where's "the story in place, w/ dialogue ... etc, referred to hereinabove? No matter.)
Phil Catalfo (philcat) Wed 23 Dec 98 22:58
Heynow! Glad to be here! (Gary, you can find the nearly-eight-year-long chronicle of Gabe's illness in a series of topics titled "Leukemia," "Leukemia, Part II," etc., up through the current "...Part IX" (I think). All but the current one are "frozen," but all are readable from The WELL; they're all linked between the Parenting conference and the Health conference.) Before I say a little bit about myself (something I've *never* been able to do, i.e., a *little* bit...), I'd just like to offer a comment about The State of Affairs in the larger culture. Today I went merrily about visiting numerous local business establishments in my town (Berkeley), doing some low-key Christmas shopping; and in the course of my errands I visited several independent booksellers. At both stores I learned that the current year has been a very, very difficult one, financially. Today's mail also brought word from a third local independent bookseller, that they will *close their doors* by Valentine's Day unless they find a buyer soon. Two of these store have been lifelines for booklovers in Berkeley (and beyond) for thirty to forty years (or more); the third, for at least a decade. Close to a hundred years of service to the community among them. All three stores are getting whomped by the big bookstore chains, and of course the online bookselling enterprises. I don't want to launch a big harangue here; I just want to remind us that we really don't want to live in a world in which there are no local, independent booksellers. And urge us to spend some of those holiday-shopping dollars at such establishments. I say this even knowing that my future success as an author is in large measure dependent on the extent to which the chains buy my books and keep them in stock. I'm happy for them to do that, of course; but I also want there to be smaller, more idiosyncratic stores stocking my books--and millions of others--and keeping local literary culture alive. I suppose it's stretching things a little--but only a little--to say that The WELL is the counterpart to the "local, independent bookseller" in the vast online universe. I won't belabor that metaphor, but I will say that I have yet to encounter another online "place" where I might have just as easily offered and continued the ongoing chronicle of my family's ordeal with Gabe's illness and death--or as easily found so much support from my peers. For the place to do and find that, and for the countless others who encouraged me all along the way, I will always be grateful. In the first six months or so after Gabe was initially diagnosed, my wife Michelle and I found ourselves tested spiritually like never before. That's not surprising, but what ultimately led to my doing this book was the growing realization, after many conversations with peers and colleagues, that many, many other contemporary parents were struggling to devise an authentic spirituality for themselves and their families. In our case, the ever-present threat to our son's survival led us to pray with new fervor, to seek some source of comfort and hope in whatever we considered to be the driving force of the universe, and to find resources within ourselves to enable us to persevere. Every family (as every individual) has its own set of imperatives which drive its spiritual journey, and so for others it was not a life-threatening illness but some other difficulty, or calling, or question, or mystical yearning. In the course of RAISING SPIRITUAL CHILDREN IN A MATERIAL WORLD I profile a number of families from around the country, of varying spiritual paths, in an effort to show something of the diversity and multiplicity of the journey. I'm a big believer in the old aphorism, "One truth, many paths." A little bit more about how the book came to be: I was talking with my dear friend Peggy Taylor, who was then the editor of New Age Journal (which she founded with her then-husband, Eric Utne, back in about 1974), sometime in 1991, a few months after Gabe was diagnosed. I was telling her about some of my/our experiences, with prayer, with faith, with doubt, with fear, and how I found it was deepening my spiritual self, without leading me to "return" to the Catholicism of my youth. This got us onto a larger discussion about spirituality in the contemporary spirituality. At one point she said, "You know, we could do a reader survey. Why don't you draft a questionnaire?" So I did, and we ran it in late 1991, and we got over 350 responses--heartfelt, profuse, impassioned responses. I went through all of them and selected a few families from around the country, whom I called and interviewed. Those families and a couple of others wound up being profiled in a followup article in NAJ--and, at much greater length, in my book. The book also tells a fair bit about my own (and my family's) spiritual odyssey (although a great deal transpired after the book was published, including Gabe's first bone marrow relapse, his subsequent bone marrow transplant, recovery from that, a second marrow relapse, and his eventual death). And I also offer my own take on the kind of attributes we need to nurture and foster in our children if they are to be able to function sensibly and healthily in the 21st century. I think I'll leave it at that for now and see what kind of questions or comments come up before posting more. Happy Holidays, everyone, and thanks for having me here! xoxo--P.C.
David Gans (tnf) Thu 24 Dec 98 09:43
Excellent introduction! So, Phil: How do you raise spiritual children in a material world?
Roberta Piazza (rpiazza) Fri 25 Dec 98 12:33
Wonderfull, Phil. I look forward to the answer to David's guestion!
Gary Gach (ggg) Sat 26 Dec 98 19:13
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Sun 27 Dec 98 10:08
What additions or changes would you make to the book based on your experiences with Gabe since the book was written?
Phil Catalfo (philcat) Tue 29 Dec 98 15:58
Hi there, gang, and sorry it's taken me so long to make it back here. I kind of drifted for a few days there. But now I'm ready to keep Being Here Now. Let me answer Sharon's question first, because I think it's simpler. First of all, the short answer is "None," in the sense that I haven't really worked out any changes or additions I'd make (even factoring in the fact that I haven't pored over the book with an eye toward that). But I'm not sure I'd really want to *change* anything; the things I wrote about Gabe's illness, and our struggle with it, are still true. I can see perhaps adding an Epilog, an Afterword or Foreword, something like that, if the book is ever revised. But the structure and thrust of the book has an integrity that I don't think I want to mess with. Now then, as for David's question: Beats the heck out of me!
Phil Catalfo (philcat) Tue 29 Dec 98 15:59
Phil Catalfo (philcat) Tue 29 Dec 98 16:15
Okay, I've had my little joke. Now then, all seriousness aside (!), there are several things I'd like to say, so...make yourselves comfortable. To begin with, I'd like to point out that there are at least two shades of meaning in the phrase, "Raising Spiritual Children in a Material World." On the one hand, it speaks to the concern of modern parents that they find a way to instill a sense of the spiritual, the ethical, the eternal, in their children--in the face of the withering onslaught of modern culture, which wants to turn every newborn babe into an indiscriminate consumer and, what's more, wants to desacralize every facet of modern life. This challenge is perhaps never more pointed than in the current season, when advertising and peer pressure incline kids to want more and better goodies and the whole body politic seems fixated on buying and selling and gift-giving and -wrapping as though they were the sina qua non of The Good Life. I have to admit this has often been a problem at our house, in that my attempts to introduce another dimension to Christmas--some time spent reflecting on the spiritual lessons behind the Christmas story (i.e., the life of Christ) and the traditional imperative to care for those less fortunate than ourselves --have usually not been especially well-received by my kids. And even at other times of the year, I find it difficult to cultivate my kids' ability to scrutinize pop culture as it is marketed to them and their peers. But I also know that they need to make their own choices, and the most I can do is let them know what I think is important; and in the last analysis it is very clear to me that my kids are wonderful people, so my wife and I must have managed to get something good across to them. The other aspect of the phrase is perhaps more subtle. As I discuss in the book, I don't believe that the answer to the pervasive entreaties of the material world is to secede from it. Rather, I think the task before us--as spiritual seekers *and* as parents--is to find ways to pursue our spirituality "in" the material world, i.e., in the world of jobs and schools and neighborhoods and youth sports and so on. By that, I don't mean that we should erase the boundaries between church and state; far from it. What I mean is that we should be learning and practicing our spiritual lessons wherever we go, and bringing whatever growth we accrue from those lessons into the "material world." That world is not "impure" or controlled by the devil. It is *our* world, and more to the point, it is the world our children will be living in for the rest of our lives. I don't want to see the Church dictating school curricula. But I do want my kids to do their best to achieve highest perfect enlightenment in the context of the public- school education they're receiving, in the context of voting in elections, of choosing and pursuing their careers, and so on. Okay. Now that I've settled (?) that, let me say a bit more about how, in the World According to Philcat, one goes about raising spiritual kids in a material world. Well, tell you what. Let me say that in the next reponse.
Phil Catalfo (philcat) Tue 29 Dec 98 16:28
All this is discussed at greater length (and with awesome aplomb), of course, in my book, but let me just continue while my keyboard is warm. I believe that every parent has to begin taking on this challenge by becoming truly engaged with his or her own spiritual process. Many parents today find themselves "returning" to church or temple or some kind of religious practice *because* they have found these wondrous creatures called children bouncing in their laps, and they--the parents--feel an "obligation" or "responsibility" to "bring them up right," to "give them a solid foundation," to provide their kids with religious education. That is, of course, a good and upstanding thing to do, and I would never try to discourage any parent from doing it. But, I suggest, it can be a way of putting the cart before the horse, if one chooses a denomination or congregation for the sake of having "something" just to have something. Far better, I think, for parents to take the time-- before or after becoming parents; whenever you feel the need--to suss out for themselve what their own spiritual needs and, especially, beliefs, are. Ultimately, clarity on that score will predicate the direction the family should take--the congregation it should join, if any; the rituals practiced at home; the stories and scriptures and other elements passed down through the generations; and so on. Be aware that this is a lifelong process! This is not something one can or should expect to get fast answers to and, having gotten answers, never having to wonder about again. Once that process is working, I encourage parents to begin with their children by viewing them not as empty vessels into which one must pour information or belief systems, but as individual souls on individual journeys--journeys with integrity and imperatives that cannot and should not be forced to satisfy others' agendas. And the way to get in touch with that is very simple: Talk with them. Let them know, gently and with an appreciation of the ever-unfolding mystery into which we all our born, how you see the world, and how you think it's put together; but also ask them what they think. Invite them to draw pictures, tell you stories, share their dreams, ask their questions. You'll be amazed, and grateful. And you'll learn a lot about what they need from you in the way of spiritual guidance and encouragement. Important tip on this point: START EARLY. Ask me how I know. I'm gonna have to cut this short right now, but I'll try to check back in later today or tomorrow to continue. xoxo--P.C.
Gary Gach (ggg) Tue 29 Dec 98 18:11
Phil, thanks for pointing me to the archives of what your family went thru as shared with this virtual community of Well. I needn't tell you how awesome it is, and how grateful it makes people to be able to share it with you and other respondents. At some point, if you can juggle the questions coming at you, I'd be interested to hear your "take" on whether there might be any core practices, such as thanks for the food, hugs on coming home, etc. Meanwhile, as to starting early with family practice -- do tell more ...
David Gans (tnf) Tue 29 Dec 98 18:48
I feel a growing drive to find ways of taking back the public discourse from the crass exploiters and the spiritual opportunists. It's damn hard to do it, since all organized movements seem doomed to corruption. But people who feel safe and whole are much less susceptible to the blandishments of both material and spiritual hucksterism. I guess there isn't a question there, but an observation. What do you think?
Cynthia Heimel (plum) Tue 29 Dec 98 22:34
Phil, I find your writing riveting as always. Like everyone else on the Well, I've been following your life for the past several years, so many times crying my eyes out with sympathy and empathy and amazement at your courage. You are a gift to the Well.
blather storm (lolly) Tue 29 Dec 98 22:52
It's great that families and children are such powerful agents in encouraging people to discover an access to "spirituality" in their lives. quotes only because it's such a moving target... I am always hopeful that people can become interested in that stuff when children and families are not the reason. And glad when they do. Because although it's marvelous to have a reason to care about such things, it's also marvelous to care about such things as a matter of course, without a reason. At the moment, I am the child I am trying to raise with "right values" in this material world.... Just also want to thank Phil for his extraordinary generosity. It's a true inspiration.
Phil Catalfo (philcat) Thu 31 Dec 98 17:10
Thanks, all, for your kind words. David, I've been thinking for two days now about your obervation(s). There's much food for thought there. We could talk for hours just on the points your raise--"material and spiritual hucksterism" and "all organized movements [seeming to be] dooomed to corruption." Let me just take a few stabs at comment. For me, it boils down to the Buddha's exhortation, just before dying, that we "work out your own salvation with diligence." One of the great pitfalls of religion is worrying overmuch about other people's spiritual destiny. (When that impulse is relatively benign, we call it proselytizing; when it goes over the line, it's exploitation, subjugation, conquest.) By "overmuch" I mean leaving insufficient attention to one's *own* spiritual path and imperatives. More than once I've found myself speculating that if we just worried more about our own faults and need for growth--our karma, if you will--the world would be a far simpler and less acrimonious place. This is not, however, an easy proposition; I know that every time I watch Pat Robertson on "The 700 Club," I'm about ready to commit evangelicide. Not that one shouldn't strive to, as you put it so well, "find ways of taking back the public discourse from the crass exploiters and spiritual opportunists," but I find I get my dander up so bad that I need to calm myself and not get into playing mind games with someone who, after all, has control of his own media empire, against which my own railings are likely to be ineffectual. More effectual and worthwhile, I think, is for me to concentrate on pursuing my own authentic spiritual path and becoming the wisest, most compassionate person I can be. More buddhalike behavior in this world would probably be a better antidote to Robertsoniana than, well, than an apoplectic philcat would be, anyway. Another aspect of this which we'd do well to consider is: *why* do people submit to hucksters and exploiters? I talk about this some in my book, and I think it's a very important question. I believe that many people are both desperate and famished, and exhausted to boot: they find the burden of constructing an ethical, spiritually-rewarding life so difficult, so perplexing, in today's world that they effectively say, "I can't handle it. I can't figure this out on my own. *Just tell me what to do*. Assure me that if I do what you tell me I'll be okay, and I'll do *whatever* you tell me." You can see this in the followers of a wide range of spiritual teachers and leaders; very few such figures tell their students/followers, "Don't take my word for it; figure it out for yourself." Doesn't matter if we're talking about the radical right or the crystal wavers or the survivalists or whatever. The ideologies, the doctrines, such as they are, are mere details compared to the psychological dynamic at work. Anyway, this wouldn't be happening as pervasively or dramatically, I don't think, if our culture were not so corrosive to the soul. If people had the sense that one was likely to lead a rewarding, meaningful life by adhering to the mainstream conventions of the culture, they would not be fleeing to the arms of these hucksters. And if I'm right, then the way to counteract that is to create meaning and purpose in our lives--in our families, in our neighborhoods, in our communities. Which starts with oneself. Having made some headway there, one then stands a more reasonable chance of making some headway on the taking-back-the-public-discourse front.
Lenny Bailes (jroe) Thu 31 Dec 98 20:18
I've always felt that we shifted in the late '70s, after a decade of expansive idealism and naturalism failed to live up to its imagined potential, to an era of skepticism and pragmatism. We're still in the grips of that pragmatism -- even with respect to our spiritual lives. "Show me some magic that changes my life. I want something I can see now! Don't give me more theories about how faith and good will can gradually change the future. I don't see it happening." This attitude-shift isn't completely unreasonable in light of the increasing economic pressure on people's lives and demonstrable inability of idealistic rhetoric to improve material quality of life. But as ancillary fallout, it feels like popular ideas about "things that don't get lost" have shifted along with preferences for "strategies that succeed." The quick fix is in, for spiritual contentment as well as for material achievement.
Lolly Lewis (lolly) Thu 31 Dec 98 21:00
<scribbled by lolly Thu 31 Dec 98 22:03>
blather storm (lolly) Thu 31 Dec 98 22:03
oops. hubris, and too much champage. I'll try again later.
hubris, and too much champage (levant) Fri 1 Jan 99 05:03
Thanks for the first pseud of the new year!
You took a vow of stupidity? (mcintire) Fri 1 Jan 99 06:33
I remember reading a book called 'Ordinary People as Monks and Mystics,' or a title close to that. The title may have been the best part, because it made me look more closely at those I encountered who were living their lives that way. I had known a few already, including a couple of very elderly Quaker ladies I knew from India, some people from the Civil Rights Movement, and a very few encountered in the daily grind. The thing that I found most drawn to, in every one of the cases I could identify of this sort, was the absolute lack of 'pressure,' with a special use of that term. These were all people who didn't try to draw you to what they did, and they certainly didn't try to push you away--they just kept doing what they did, in their everyday life, in such a way that everyone who encountered them could catch on that it was worthwhile. This is behavior I lack language to express clearly (clearly!). Other people have either made similar observations of people who were spiritually centered (to use an old Quaker term that has been part of the general discourse on mindfulness). There's an old quote that used to be posted in the Chapel of the Venerable Bede: "Why were the saints saints? Because they were cheerful when it was difficult to be cheerful, patient when it was difficult to be patient; and because they pushed on when they wanted to stand still, and kept silent whenthey wanted to talk, and were agreeable when they wanted to be disagreeable. That was all. It was quite simple and always will be." I know that's not all, because one could be all of those things and still be a horrible person, in one's ultimate intention. So it has be conjoined with some form of right-mindfulness, as the Buddha said. The other strain that is similar is the one that comes out of the Eckhartian injunction: Make of your life a moving meditation. Seen in the "when you are washing dishes, really wash dishes" tradition of Eastern focus on the singleness of existence, it helps pull a lot of the world's more organized ways of looking at this closer together. With all of that in mind, trying to do it as a parent, and trying to convey it without always being in full-blown didactic mode, is one of the most daunting challenges I know. If you know that the real saints around you communicate by action, not by words, can you do that, and only that, and be comfortable knowing your child will see, learn, incorporate? If you spend your time worrying about that, are you really focusing on the things you should be mindful of, "your own salvation"? For "you" in the above, it's "me," because I am really describing my own concern (as the father of a 12-year-old).
blather storm (lolly) Fri 1 Jan 99 10:11
I saw a tv movie once called "Body and Soul." It's about a nun who, for various reasons, has to go out into the business world - to leave the convent for the first time since she was a youngster. The first time, she gets on the train in her habit, and people behave toward her in the way that is set up by her outfit - they know she's a nun, there's the reasonable expectation that she's in a more meditative "space," and that's ok, like she is in some separate spiritual island defined by her costume. The next time, she has to wear street clothes. And of course, she no longer has the protective island that her habit afforded. So for the first time she is in the same world as everyone else. But SHE hasn't changed, she's still in that same meditative world but now - well people don't know it. And her behavior strikes people as a little eccentric. This resonated for me tremendously. We don't much accept "spirituality" in street clothes, do we? But in a way, that's the bigger challenge - how to go about our integrated lives in a way which incorporates, even encourages, reflection and observation and connection. Without departing from the world, without retreating from it. I heard a talk recently by Peter Coyote and he addressed this a little bit - how we have not necessarily had all the right ideas, and maybe our behavior has been less than enlightened, but that we have been living our lives BASED ON the notion that there is community, that there is connection, and that we want to live, that we stake our lives in fact on living, in a way that acknowledges a spiritual, connected basis. One halting step at a time. (ps he said the online communities are the next major deal in this, can't help but agree, hee hee.)
David Gans (tnf) Fri 1 Jan 99 11:34
>We don't much accept "spirituality" in street clothes, do we? For sure. People who affect too much of that sort of thing come off as flakes in the mainstream world, I think. But in a way, people who are too overtly "spiritual" on the street are call- ing attention to themselves, in a way that runs afoul of what both Alex and Phil are talking about here. When I was a kid I had the gloriously beneficial experience of a guided psychedelic trip, on Christmas Eve of 1970 (or maybe it was 1971). My best pal's hippie uncle, my best pal, and my brother all pretended to dose with me, but instead they stayed earthbound and directed me on a wonderful trip to the edge of the universe. Uncle David was a veteran of many movements, an astrologer, theater guy, etc., and he had a lot of colorful things to tell me about eternity, enlightenment, etc. What it all came down to at the end was, of course, "Chop wood, carry water," or as Alex put it, "_really_ wash dishes." It took me a very long time to calm down and center myself so I could actually practice all that, but I think I do a reasonably good job of mindfulness and Being Here Now, considering my utterly suburban, unreligious upbringing and other factors that wouldn't tend to point me toward the light. What Phil posted in <16> brings to mind a song lyrics of mine, which I will presume to post here: SOVEREIGN SOUL I'm a sovereign soul And my freedom is something I mean to enjoy I'm a sovereign soul My time and attention are mine to deploy I'm a sovereign soul And I was not created by anyone's God So I won't go inferno for breaking his laws I'm a sovereign soul And I speak for myself and I do as I please And I care for my neighbor come famine or freeze I'm a sovereign soul I'm a sovereign soul I know who my friends are and what's worth the time And I won't kiss your ass unless you're kissing mine I'm a sovereign soul I thought I was dead but I came back to life I'm sticking with this world and taking a wife She's a sovereign soul I'm a sovereign soul We are sovereign souls I'm a sovereign soul And I do what I can to make sense of it all And I keep myself ready to answer the call I'm a sovereign soul And I own my own words and I think for myself And there's more to this life than creation of wealth I'm a sovereign soul And I honor my word and I pay off my debts And I tell you my story so I don't forget I'm a sovereign soul We are sovereign souls you are a sovereign soul (Copyright 1995 by David Gans)
blather storm (lolly) Fri 1 Jan 99 12:39
>>people who are too overtly "spiritual" on the street are call- ing attention to themselves, in a way that runs afoul precisely. that's the trick isn't it.
Cynthia Heimel (plum) Fri 1 Jan 99 22:06
David, would you call yourself a sovereign soul? When I hear the word spiritual I reach for my gun. But I will put my gun down if someone will tell me what it means. Does it mean religious? Believing in things unseen? Or what? I'm always trying to figure out what's true and how to live. Is that spiritual?
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