When I started practicing mindfulness, I desperately wanted to control my temper. I went from calm to furious in moments and couldn't seem to break the habit of losing my temper. Most days ended with unhappy kids and me full of regret and remorse for my latest outburst.
Controlling my temper didn't get easier, even once I had a practice. I knew what should help, and tried a lot of different ways to settle myself. Stop and take a breath--nope. Count to 10--nope. Just calm down--definitely nope. Walk away for a minute--nope.
One day I read about a mindfulness jar--a jar of water with dirt and sand mixed in. The idea is that the water is our clear, true nature. The jar is the discipline, the container. And the dirt and sand (this was a long time ago, lots of people use glitter now) are the emotions or challenging situations. When I got upset, I could shake the jar and be still until the water cleared.
I made one and told my kids about it. When I was upset, I would shake the jar and be quiet until the water was clear.
This gave me a focus to turn inward, sitting with my own discomfort and feelings and confusion and shame rather than spewing them out onto my kids. It was what I wanted to do, and at the same time one of the hardest things I've ever practiced. Sometimes I would actually sit with my hands over my mouth to keep quiet. But it worked, I was usually able to be still, and once the water cleared my anger had settled enough to allow me to talk without attacking.
After a while I learned what has turned out to be the most important thing for me, to hold the emotions lovingly rather than fight against them (deep bow of gratitude to Thich Nhat Hanh). I began to sit still and imagine holding my big feelings like they were a baby--gently and with openness. This brought me into a new relationship with my feelings. Years of squashing feelings hadn't worked, but the combination of discipline--being still while watching a jar of dirty water, and curiosity--noticing and holding the feelings with tenderness, really changed everything.
It's been about fifteen years since I made that first mindfulness jar. Awareness of emotions is something that I still need to practice. The jar, the practice, and the friendly relationship with emotions have transformed how I relate to myself and my family and the world.
My life and work are guided by the these core understandings: that all beings (including me!) are capable of transformation and joy, that healthy parenting matters profoundly, and that simple practices can support each of us.