A little over ten years ago, I heard a speaker who changed my life. It happened at the Bioneers Conference in Marin. I was attending this festival for ecological activists with my then boyfriend, (now husband), whose film was playing at the festival. It was a hard time in my life. I was in the midst of a major life transition, moving from a full time career as a touring singer songwriter into finding a way of life that would allow me to stay in one place. I felt deeply hungry to find myself. And also, profoundly at sea.
Then she took the stage. The speaker was tall. Elegant. A little frail from a life spent battling chronic illness. But also luminous. She shone, in that way that brilliant and deeply conscious people do. Even before she opened her mouth to speak, she seemed to shimmer a little, around the edges.
“I’m not an activist. I’m a story teller,” she began. She addressed the audience of several thousand of us softly, as if we were already friends. “And I’m going to tell you some stories today.
“I want to talk to you about becoming a blessing. Living as though your life makes a difference.”
Her name was Rachel Naomi Remen, and her message was that each of us, no matter our position, profession or self image, has the power to bless life.
She shared that she first learned the power of blessing from her grandfather, an Orthodox rabbi and, as she described him, “a flaming mystic.”
Her visits with him were the highlight of her childhood. When she saw him, she would eagerly tell him all the things she’d done and felt that week. He would listen deeply, rejoicing over her accomplishments, offering support where she had faced challenges.
Then, he would put his hand on her head, and begin to talk about her aloud. He would say aloud all the beautiful things about her that were true.
As a child, she felt like when her grandfather did this, he was telling God who she was.
Not all of us identify with the concept of “God”. But however we think about our relationship to the big picture, we all have the power to bless life.
To bless is more than saying “I love you.” It means seeing and saying back the truth that another person may not fully be able to see, or may have momentarily lost touch with.
When we bless someone, we help them remember their fullest self. We mirror back to them their wholeness. We help them feel their connection to powers greater than their own. This is what Rachel’s Grandfather did for her.
It’s also what Rachel, in that amazing plenary speech, did for me.
Some of the wisdom she offered took root in my work life. Some took root in my art. Some took root in my soul. And some were seeds that have only come to blossom in parenting.
I want to share one of those things with you today, a little family tradition inspired by Rachel Naomi Remen.
Parents, try this – when you are putting your child to sleep, set aside a little time for blessing, just as Rachel’s grandfather did.
Tell your child the things you see and love about them that are true.
Avoid generalities. Instead, get specific.
“I want to tell you some things I noticed about you from today. At the playground, you gave Oliver a turn with your truck. It’s not always easy to do that. When I see you do something like that, I can really see your caring heart. That’s something I so love and appreciate about you.”
“This morning I was rushing, and you felt really upset about that. You showed me that it’s hard on you when I rush you in the morning. When I see you do that, I can appreciate how your really stand up for your needs. I so value that about you.”
Whatever you observed, flex your empathy muscles and allow yourself to see it from your child’s perspective. Allow yourself to see how they (and you and we!) are trying our best. And say it aloud.
Let them know you are listening. Let them know you see them.
Because when you do this, you help them learn to also see themselves.
And here’s another thing I tell my own children “You children who have come now, you are very special children. Because you have chosen to come at a time when this earth needs all the love in our hearts.
“People are waking up. People are beginning to understand that we need to find a new way to live – a way that honors all the beings and creatures of the earth. And you are a very important part of that. You and Peregrine and all the children who are coming now.
“This is a powerful, extraordinary time to be alive, and we are blessed to share this moment together. So much is changing. And it is up to all of us to help move that change along.
Amidst all the heartache of this time, there is so much love and strength for us to draw upon.
There are reserves deeper than we can ever truly understand or know.
My deepest wish for my children is this – I want to help them feel their connection to those resources. The unending ones. The ones born of feeling and seeking our right place within the web of life. The ones that may begin with reckoning, but that end in realignment and, ultimately, homecoming.
This is what it means to bless. It means to help nurture homecoming – the ability to see ourselves through the same gaze Rachel’s grandfather turned upon her – the wise eyes of love.
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