Yes, my oldest daughter texts, posts, and video chats. Yes, she is acutely aware of when it is "time" to freshen up the wardrobe with a few new pieces from the latest fashion trends. Yes, she often rolls her eyes at my "weird" behaviors. And yes, friends are at the top of her sharing list these days. Indeed, a typical teenager in so many ways, EXCEPT for underneath the North Face coat and the Ugg boots, behind the gaggle of giddy girlfriends and the florescent computer screen, and even beyond our intimate family discussions and shared dinners, there lies a self-awareness and interior blossoming that seems unfathomable for a child her age. Certainly not what I experienced several years back (Alright, twenty-six years back to be exact) at the tender age of fourteen.
Recently my daughter and I were discussing whether or not she would attend, once again, a three week all girls’ camp for the fifth summer in a row. While we encouraged all of our children to try overnight camp at least once, we have told her that the decision to return is now totally up to her. As the discussion ensued, I became almost mesmerized by her capacity to articulate her vantage point on the subject. With a palpable gratitude for all of the opportunities and lessons learned from her previous camp experiences, she began to share her deeper thoughts on this subject and beyond.
She shared that while camp is touted as a place to be fully and authentically yourself, create a sisterhood, expand a connection to nature, and explore your core through contemplation and solitude, the point of it all is to come to understand that inner connection is available anywhere, anytime, and most importantly in the NOW. She went on to give the example of seeing quite clearly that she doesn’t need to go anywhere specific (camp), do anything special (canoe) or be anything different (a camper) to feel authentic, open, connected and free. While she definitely views camp as a blessing, she knows that she is enough just as she is with or without camp to remind her of that inner knowing.
She even voiced that the songs about sisterhood, respect, and caring, many with a "free to be you" theme, seemed a bit odd to her now, expressing that while appreciative of the sentiment, she hoped that her fellow campers felt free to be themselves beyond the activities in nature, communal cabins, and family dining. In short, everywhere. She assured me that she was not "knocking" camp in any way and may choose to return, but if she does go back for another year or three, it would not be because the camp experience allows her to feel more authentic in any way. Her return would be based on the conscious, sole (soul) choice to attend simply because she enjoys the experience not because it is a "safe" place to be herself fully in the world.
I was truly blown away by her expression of deep wisdom that has taken many of us divorces, health maladies, and endless searches through different veins of the exterior world to figure out. What my dear girl was saying through the example of summer camp–one of any possible outer examples–probably resonates with most of us when looked at closely. We do not need to go somewhere special or do something out of the ordinary to live our own truth. In other words, freedom to be comfortable within our own skin should not be saved for places that we visit three weeks a year. Self-love can be cultivated in all ways, always.
Yes, my daughter has her challenges, her snarky attitudes, her moments of self-doubt. Yes, she can sometimes be mean to her siblings, sassy to her parents, generally ornery. And yet, underneath it all are ever-expanding and deep cracks of self-awareness, self-love and true compassion for others that will serve not only her, but the world at large, quite well. While some parents desire status, monetary reward and upward societal movement for their children–none of which are negative per say–beyond those exterior pursuits, my deepest heart’s desire for mine can be voiced most succinctly through Shakespeare, "To thine own self be true." EnLIGHTenment at its best…