Michael Mendizza

Writer, Filmmaker

Trust and Happiness


Parenting, Playful Advice

It is impossible for adults, adulterated as they are, to participate fully in the young child’s reality. This evening we had a lovely adulterated dinner. We shared a glass of wine and chatted about, you know, things. Carly at fifteen plus months sat on the counter, center stage, and played with the faucet and bits of chopped bell pepper.

Swirling around her were energy tornadoes spawned by the various ebbs and flow of adult conversation. You see, behind and embedded in every word is energy. We decode the flow of energy-words as mental images and live most of the time in the virtual reality this creates. Carly, unfamiliar with the code, simply feels and responds to the vibe, much the way we do to the pounding beat at a rock concert. After an hour or so she gets restless, overstimulated by the noise. She needs a break. But we go on talking. 

Carly is 90% sensory-emotional. She is constantly scanning, moving, touching, picking up, pushing, listening, tasting. For Carly learning never stops. Every now and then she gazes off, eyes wide, in another world, or she plops down on a pillow, butt up, like a formula one racing car in a pit stop, then she is off again, often to our dismay. It is hard to keep up. Nothing she does is idle. Every action has a motive, intent. What happens is what she learns and there is always something happening.

I often think if Jean Leidloff observing stone age children in the Amazon. They never quarreled. They are extremely attentive, poised, balanced, careful but without fear or anxiety. I sit Carly on the edge of the sink or kitchen counter, close enough to catch her but not hovering. I assume competence and so does she. Of course she can slip and fall, but why would she?

I trust her and she trusts me. That is the essential heart of our relationship, our communion. There are times when she literally stumbles and falls intentionally into my arms, a complete surprise to me. Were I not completely present, attentive, like an athlete during the playoffs, she might fall, and badly. Being distracted is dangerous.

But we adults are rarely not distracted. Random thoughts, flashing day dreams, the numbing dumb-phone, texts, our fears, anxieties and idle chatter are constantly siphoning our attention, each a tiny form of disassociation, a disconnect. Carly, too, can be excited, so exuberant playing the game that she becomes distracted, and distractions can be dangerous. She trusts that I am present, like a guide in some foreign land. The stability of her entire developmental infrastructure depends on this basic trust.

When I think of my general image of a one year old, even one year and a quarter, sixteen months, I must admit not being impressed; diapers, food dribbling, fumbling, not very present or competent. The reality is quite different. Carly is attentive and aware of everything, or so it seems. She is like a mountain climber, testing her footing, cautious but without fear, as she moves, and each movement is a learning experience, one more step toward mastery. She knows what she likes, does not like, and expresses it on the spot, directly. The real question is: are we paying attention, listening and responding appropriately? If yes, her clarity, confidence and capacity continue to open exponentially. If not, she must hesitate, her attention splits between being fully engaged and protecting herself in unknown, therefore unsafe territory. As Joseph Chilton Pearce said so often, she must defend herself against a world she cannot trust. Trust is the difference that makes the difference.

Working on a new book, Always Awakening – Buddha’s Realization and Krishnamurti’s Insight, happiness has been in the forefront. The Buddhist practice to negate suffering, most often self-imposed, returning the body and mind to its natural order. The word that best describes this natural order of body and mind is happiness. Trust is the essential prerequisite for happiness.

With trust and its implicit attunement, the ordinary bumps and frustrations roll off and disappear, melting in a general pond of happiness. Without basic trust pain becomes fear and that must be defended against, anxiety being a general state of fear with no apparent focus, target or cause. Much of what we call personality is this defense.

With trust the model our behavior represents serves as clear and appropriate guide for our children. Nature assumes that the adult model is sane and appropriate. But in today’s world that is asking a lot. Imagine traveling in the Congo or Amazon and discovering that your guide is really quite mad, easily distracted, scattered, a bit like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, one moment clear and the next – well, you know. There goes basic trust and with it optimum learning and performance. Complete, entrained attention is impossible. Learning collapses into a generalized state of anxiety. Brick by brick the defenses are set into place that wall us off from the natural state of happiness which is the natural order. First and foremost our children must trust us. Then they can trust the world.

Michael Mendizza