Navigating healthy spiritual development at home can be quite the task, especially if different family members have different beliefs (or a lack of beliefs). To explore insights around this topic, Thomas McConkie and Gloria Pak, founders of Lower Lights School of Wisdom, sat down with Drew Hansen, co-founder of Uplift. The conversation includes insights from Thomas and Gloria’s deep experience with a variety of wisdom traditions, including Buddhism, Christianity, and Sufism, as well as their first-hand experience with their son Joon.
Read ten principles that surfaced over the course of the call and watch the full video embedded below.
1. Honor Individual Approaches to Spirituality
When asked about their personal spiritual practices, Thomas talks about his more than 20 years of still sitting meditation. “If you dropped in on my house any given day I might be sitting still in meditation,” he says. “So that’s been a big part of my formation.”
Gloria shares this same interest in still sitting, but doesn’t do it the exact same way Thomas does. “I found my rhythm to be more organic,” she says. “It feels more true to me to sit when I feel called to sit, as opposed to having a 6am structure.” In addition, Thomas talks about Gloria’s particular interest in exploring beauty and design as a spiritual practice — noting that while he doesn’t personally approach spirituality in that way, he reveres Gloria’s approach.
By honoring individual approaches to spirituality in the home, you set the stage to let your children find the approach that most speaks to them, ensuring your kids stay true to their inner compass and personal strengths.
2. Pay Attention to What’s Behind Emotions and Words
Gloria says that one of her recurring spiritual practices as a parent is deeply paying attention to her son as he is. “I find myself really paying attention to what he’s teaching me in the moment,” Gloria says. “I see how he’s feeling and how his emotions are erupting, and I ask how I can work with that instead of resisting and pushing back.”
As you learn to see what’s behind an emotion — or words, for that matter — you pick up on subtle cues and get at the heart of problems, making the problems easier to manage.
3. Integrate Wisdom Texts From Around the World
Gloria refers to wisdom texts as “texts that focus on the universal principles behind the wisdom traditions, whether Hinduism, Sufism, Buddhism, and so on — any text that speaks to the universal principles of spirituality, the essence of that spiritual language.” As such, these texts offer families a way to explore various ways of talking about spirituality. Thomas adds that his experience with wisdom texts from several traditions have strengthened his understanding and appreciation of each individual tradition. (Lately for Thomas and Gloria, this has meant participating in a Sufi book club.)
By teaching from a variety of wisdom traditions, you help your kids respect a variety of cultures. In addition, you can learn to integrate that wisdom in your own community, deepening and enlivening your own tradition, whatever it might be. Sample some of these wisdom texts in our growing wisdom library.
4. Celebrate the Full Spectrum of Development
Thomas outlines how studying human development for more than a decade has changed his view of faith. “When I read the research I immediately realized that the religious experience was just a very very narrow bandwidth of faith,” he says. He illustrates his view prior to learning development theory with a Chinese proverb about a frog sitting in a well, witnessing only a small slice of the sky. After we learn about development, Thomas says, “We realize the sky is much bigger, grander, and more vast than we could have imagined.”
By understanding the basic principles of development — some of which we cover in our lesson on growing up — you and your kids can learn to appreciate and respect the full spectrum of development.
5. Practice Presence
Thomas continues by talking about how essential presence is when navigating spiritual development in the home. “I feel in my heart and my experience that when I’m completely present with my son that the presence in and of itself is nourishing,” he says. He adds that no matter his son’s age over the coming decades, presence will always be the foundation of spiritual health, saying, “I have an intuition that this presence is the foundation now and then.”
Gloria echoes Thomas’s words, saying, “One of the things that feels true to me is if I am authentically alive and engaged in my spiritual questions and being honest with where I’m at and living it as honestly as I can, the spiritual heart will be transmitted.”
This transmission — beyond words and emotions — is felt in the home, resulting in a greater sense of honesty about what is needed moment to moment.
6. Celebrate Family Stories and Lineage
Thomas and Gloria both talk about the importance of passing on family stories from parents, grandparents, and beyond to kids.
They also talk about their interest in exploring their traditional lineages. “Right now I’m really interested in the mystical heart behind Confucianism,” says Gloria. “It wasn’t necessarily predominant as I grew up, but it’s something that I feel connected to and is a stream of wisdom that I’ve been born into. So it feels like my own karma in the sense of like my own lineage that I’m investigating.”
7. Trust the Process, Watching Out for Pervasive Anxiety
Thomas talks about how kids pick up on subtle cues in the home — about how if parents are constantly anxious, kids feel it, and how if parents have a deep trust in their kids’ basic goodness, they feel that.
Because of this, one spiritual practice worth exploring in the home is to return to trust over and over again. It’s not necessarily easy, but as parents and kids learn to trust the natural process of spiritual development in the home, they develop an abiding calm.
In this way, this is a meditation practice in itself: Noticing when anxiety about the process is arising and returning to a sense of trust.
8. When Explaining a Faith Shift, Translate What’s Most Nutritive
One listener asks how they should talk to their child if they’ve been through a faith shift. In response, Thomas and Gloria suggest adapting their story to the developmental stage of each child. “We don’t show certain video content to a two-year-old if it’s violent or sexual in nature,” Thomas says. Similarly, it’s important to sense into what aspects of the experience will be a shock to the system of the child and which aspects will be nutritive.
“I think there’s a distinction between transparency and translation,” Gloria adds. This means that parents can find ways to be honest and transparent about their experience while not talking about it with the same level of detail they might talk about it with other adults. In practice this may mean saying something like, “Right now, church is not my home,” rather than going into every detail about why.
9. Hold Agency and Communion
Another listener asks how to navigate giving their child agency to do their own thing versus encouraging them to participate in a certain community. Gloria suggests children need to feel like they have a place of belonging, especially when they’re young and are still developing their sense of self. This starts by introducing the child to the family’s worldview and then to a larger community, whatever that might look like. As the child gets older and looks for independence, it means having a greater emphasis on agency.
Thomas echoes this by talking about sitting in the still point between the polarities of agency and communion, trusting “the child’s innate capacity to grow without limits” as they integrate the wisdom of these complementary opposites.
10. Use Pain as a Springboard Toward the Transcendent
No matter our spiritual community, we’ve all experienced pain. Community inevitably lets us down and hurts us. “What I’ve found,” says Thomas, “and what I’ve seen in other people that have gone before is that … encountering pain and facing hard questions that come with that pain is a springboard into a beautiful spiritual life. It is those questions — it is that broken heart — that brings alive a receptivity to something higher and beyond as well as a willingness to be guided. The pain at times is unbearable as is the yearning for something that transcends.”
By facing this pain and sitting with it, rather than ignoring it or numbing it away with distractions, you can let pain lead you toward spiritual development in the home.
Watch the full interview here: