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"I can say without false humility that I'm the cook in the family, at least when I'm home before dinnertime to prepare meals. I think my two boys believe that it's the man's job to cook in the house. Once some friends gave my wife and me a special cooking utensil as an anniversary present. My oldest boy asked what it was, and our friend said that it was a gift to celebrate the birthday of his parents' marriage. "Oh," he said. Then after a pause he added, "What did you get for my mom?"

 

 

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Home » Features » An Interview with Robert Tolz

Reflections on the Journey of Life
by Carolyn Cooper and Patricia Colleran

Do you try to transmit to your children any of what you've learned in Cafh in an explicit way?

I have never said to my children, "Cafh explains this in such-and-such a way." I don't like to preach or indoctrinate. Besides, Cafh doesn't have any kind of sacred book that I could quote from anyway.

Frankly, even if I were to say such things, I don't think it would be an effective method for transmitting anything. We all know the phrase, "Do as I say, not as I do." The reason that phrase was invented is that, for sure, children will learn more from what you do and how your are. Perhaps the phrase "actions speak louder than words" is what really applies to how kids learn from their parents.

So, whatever I may have learned in Cafh is transmittable only to the extent I actually live it. I don't have to try to teach, and they don't have to try to learn it, because without effort my way of being becomes part of their environment, and they absorb that environment automatically.

This is actually one of the reasons we had our kids attend The Seed, which is a nursery school / kindergarten run by members of Cafh who live in a community in Yorktown, New York. We knew that they would absorb the environment of love that the community members have been able to create there.

So there's no time that you try to inculcate spiritual ideas to them in words?

Well, we do talk to them about many things that deal with behaviors that would be consistent with spiritual ideals, like love, respect, fairness, and so forth.

Wait. There is one time I can recall that I tried to communicate more directly some of the ideas I've learned through my association with Cafh, though still in a roundabout kind of way. I was putting my kids to bed and said I couldn't read to them because it was time for lights out. That didn't stop them. They virtually demanded that I make up a story for them. I asked them to pick a subject, and they picked Christmas.

I started making up a story about two kids who just accidentally happened to have the same names as my two boys who magically wound up visiting Santa Claus on the day before Christmas. An accident injured Santa to the extent that he had to ask the two boys to take his place that night to deliver all the presents. They learned, in substituting for him, how he's able to make his rounds the world over without ever being seen. In gratitude for their assistance, Santa told them he had a special present for them placed under their own tree.

The boys returned home to find a small, plain stone from Santa, which they learned is called the "Helping Stone." It allows them to bring about the same circumstances around them as allows Santa to deliver presents without being seen. They can use this power whenever they need it, but only in order to help others. Naturally, since they can't be seen, they can never be thanked for their help.

The story goes on from there (it basically created itself over several nights of story-telling) to detail the boys' adventures in using the Helping Stone. I think most kids feel relatively powerless, and that's why superhero comics are so avidly read. Superheroes fix things and are loved and applauded for their efforts. Although my story was a little bit like turning kids into superheroes, they had to learn to use their powers because it was the thing that needed to be done, and not because they would be recognized or thanked.

My kids loved the story. They complained if any evening's episode was too short. I don't think they ever suspected that I was trying to teach them something at the same time I was trying to entertain them.

Are there any other roles which are affected by your spiritual work?

Well, my "role" as a male is affected.

In what way?

A little-noticed effect of the women's liberation movement is that it also resulted in the possibility of men's liberation as well. Men have become free to develop their innate qualities which might years ago have seemed relatively unmanly, such as the expression of kindness, the recognition of one's emotional life and the will to nurture.

The other component that I try to work on is to recognize when the old superior-male / inferior-female roles start to rise up, where the woman is supposed to be the servant of the man. Thankfully, my wife is pretty quick to reflect that back to me if I falter.

It truly makes me very sad when I see people in relationships that preserve those old superiority/inferiority models. Unfortunately, I see it more than I would like to.

Can you describe something specific about how you try to change those roles?

I can say without false humility that I'm the cook in the family, at least when I'm home before dinnertime to prepare meals. I think my two boys believe that it's the man's job to cook in the house. Once some friends gave my wife and me a special cooking utensil as an anniversary present. My oldest boy asked what it was, and our friend said that it was a gift to celebrate the birthday of his parents' marriage. "Oh," he said. Then after a pause he added, "What did you get for my mom?"

How does taking over cooking functions express spiritual work?

Believe me, the spiritual work in marriage goes well beyond cooking.

Let me give you an example. When I was single and living in Manhattan, I used to pick up after my dog well before Mayor Koch put in a pooper-scooper law. People used to watch me do it and think I was crazy. I did that because I didn't think I had the right to soil the environment. To do otherwise would be an imposition on others. Someone else would have to pick up after me or else suffer the messy consequences.

Now that I've been married many years, I have to confess that one of the things I still have to work on is when I'm imposing on my wife to do something that I could just as easily have done, such as making sure that I throw away an envelope after reading the mail instead of leaving it on the kitchen counter for her to deal with.

It may seem like a very mundane example, but spirituality is truly realized only when it is expressed in the small details of daily life. I think it was Einstein who said that an idea becomes real only if you write it down. I would say that a spiritual idea is made real when expressed in concrete actions.

When I was single and picking up after my dog, I was trying to express a sense of responsibility to my community. When I got married, I was joining a community of two people, It was a smaller community, but not lesser in significance by any means.

One of the reasons I like this example is that it shows one of the things I've learned about spiritual life. It is sometimes easier to say something broad and abstract like "I love all souls" than it is to figure out how to express love in your own immediate environment.

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