As parents (and as human beings), we either fight life or allow it. It (life) is like a river--shakti, life force, universal flow, Divine Will--but a river that we have to sense rather than see. Fighting or working against it, whether trying to push it along or move against its flow, will be exhausting. Flowing or working with it will be enlivening.
When my kids were growing up, I spent many days fighting what was. There were days that they were inward and I had a long list of errands I wanted to do, days that they were fighting off a virus and I didn't understand why they were so moody, days they had wild energy and it didn’t fit with my plan. Other days I flowed with them, allowing life’s energy to lead me. Those days were magic—playing and wandering outside for hours; starting a pot of soup on a day they turned out to want nothing more than to sit on the floor with playmobil the entire day; surrendering to a sick day and doing nothing but cuddling, reading books, and throwing in loads of necessary laundry.
At every stage I start to think I understand what it is to flow with life, but am humbled to find that what worked before doesn't work now. That's because it isn't something to learn. It’s a sense of flow, of being with life herself,.like an expanded form of listening to my own body and sensing my need to rest or eat with inner knowing rather than my logical mind. Working with life's flow is listening to a body that I'm part of--the family body, the Earth body.
Right now, my parenting journey is in a time of standstill. What I've known is over. I want to do something, to be busy and even needed, but it's time for me to let go, allow the flow to shift and streams to follow their own courses. It's time to turn inward and pay attention to my own inner energy, getting to know what it is now. This is a scary and lonely, joyful and exciting, confusing and disorienting time, not so different than every other stage and change in life.
Happy New Year!
For me, this time of year is about going inward.
Instead of setting New Year's resolutions born of my own sense of failure or self-disgust and then striving to meet them, I choose to follow Nature's example.
The trees, gorgeous in their spareness, drop their life energy into the roots. We see their often-hidden form--the simple lines and intricate branching--and glimpse the sky and moon through their branches.
I'm inspired to let my energy settle into my own roots. I eat simply; meditate in candlelight on dark mornings; saunter outside every day, soaking up what sun I can; create pockets of beauty in my home that will delight me; and let go of that which doesn't inspire me (material things, ideas, habits, burdens).
How about you? Can you make space for a nourishing inward time this winter?
"What do I do when I'm stressed out?"
"I'm trying to meditate at home, but it's not helping!"
"What can I do when I'm just out of sorts?"
People ask me questions like these nearly every day, here are some of the things I recommend (on top of your regular meditation practice, and if you don't have one, check out my resources page).
Try one or two and see how it goes! Don't expect any of these to get rid of your feelings (because that's not the goal!) or stop a full-blown freak out in its tracks, but you may find that they shift your stress level down a notch or two.
Is there something that works for you? Please share it in the comments!
Body Scan. Stop and notice, how you feel? Scan your body, noticing how you actually feel right now. Do this as tenderly and lovingly as possible. Use my body scan audio practice found here, second audio link from the top.
Hold your feelings. Imagine turning toward your emotion, name it, and hold it like a baby. Try putting a hand on your heart and another on your belly, comfort the feeling, talk to it lovingly.
ETS and/or Rescue Remedy: flower essence solution to help you come to center even during physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual stress and trauma. ETS is available at Perelandra-ltd.com, Rescue Remedy can be purchased online and also locally at Martindale’s, and Whole Foods.
Ujjayi breathing: This simple breathing practice calms to release tension and stress and increase awareness. Learn how to use the breath here.
Daybook: Get a book with daily readings or day-by-day calendar so you have a daily reminder. Some good ones include: Mark Nepo’s The Book of Awakening, Noah Rasheta’s The Five-Minute Mindfulness Journal, Ming-Dao Deng’s 365 Tao, and the Zen Page-A-Day calendar.
Svaroopa Magic Four: Embodiment is an essential part of inner work! Practice Svaroopa’s simple and deep magic four yoga postures to ground yourself in your body, release tension, and practice being present.
Go outside: Take a walk, rest your bare feet on the ground, work in the garden, sit and listen to the birds, look at a tree in your yard, watch some bugs doing their thing. Even in cold or rainy weather, it can be wonderful to take time outside, but when that feels hard you can even look out the window.
Take a grounding bath: Add a handful of sea salt or epsom salts to your bath and soak in them.
Practice Loving Kindness: Do a formal or informal loving kindness for yourself, someone you’re worried about, all living beings (more information in this article by Sharon Salzburg).
Practice gratitude: Notice 5 things you feel grateful for and write them down each day for a week. Or try writing 5 positive things you notice about yourself, your child, a colleague.
Learning that I am responsible for my own emotions is one of many gifts I've received from my sons.
On the day something new broke through, I was having a conflict with my son. Until then, although I understood that he had a right to his emotions and that I was responsible for my own feelings, my behavior was actually controlled by hidden beliefs. Beliefs like, 'He should be reasonable,' and 'I should be in control' lived inside of me unconsciously.
Deeper was an even more unconscious layer that denied my own feelings, an inner unquestioned understanding that 'It's not okay to be uncomfortable,' or frustrated or ashamed or confused. Feelings like that are bad, are scary. So someone who stirs up those feelings is a problem.
Can you see how these layers work together? My child gets angry with me because I set a perfectly rational limit. His anger triggers a deep sense of discomfort in me, but I can't deal with that feeling for reasons I don't understand. So the emotional energy gets bumped up to the next layer and I think (and maybe even say to my son), 'You shouldn't act/think/feel that way.'
I was correcting him for speaking to me rudely, and he was getting angrier. I saw the helplessness on his face, the fury combined with pain caused by my pressure, my expectation that he stuff down emotions he couldn't control. I think my heart opened to it all just a bit at that moment, just enough to make me close my mouth and sit down.
I realized that he was a kid trying to deal with feelings.
And I was expecting him to deal with them alone.
So I took hold of my own feelings, knowing I'd need to take care of them later, and I asked, "Will you tell me about it?"
He was, of course, shocked. He yelled at me, unleashing those emotions. I barely held on enough to listen because I was swamped by my own intense feelings. I was shaking, feeling so confused by love for his tender self that I had seen under the anger and the discomfort of holding my own anger, judgment, and sadness. But I did listen. The issue reverberated for days as we began to learn how to deal with our feelings together. I practiced mindfulness like my life depended on it. I used every emotional tool in my own toolkit to take care of my feelings. I made a core shift from believing he should be reasonable to actively loving and accepting him when he was unreasonable.
I got some important things that day.
Simply, that loving is more important than controlling.
That listening is powerful.
That connection heals.
And to trust my child's true nature.
Every day I am grateful for that breakthrough. Every day I keep learning to embody it.
I want to invite you to take a radical, revolutionary step with me.
We can all do it, it costs nothing, and you need no equipment or special training.
It doesn't even take more than a few moments of your time and will actually feel good (for you and other people).
And it will literally help defeat the dark forces at work in our world!
Are you in? The simple step is to feed love.
What do you love right now?
Change can be almost unbearably slow
Just as we nurture our children's best selves and our own, we nurture our culture. We choose day by day, moment by moment, conversation by conversation, and vote by vote, the world that we live in. We can't give up on this messy world until it reflects the world in our hearts and souls.
Are you voting? Do you know the local candidates? Let's vote for change.
Back to school, cooler weather, the sunlight, the garden--it feels like everything is changing. For me, maybe for you, that can be bumpy. Watching my kids grow up makes me think longingly of those times when they were little and cuddly, when life felt simple.
But that emotional memory of the past isn't real. Just as I am often confused by how to be a mom to my mostly-grown sons, I was confused when they were little! It's not 'now' that's a problem, it's the experience of being uncertain, of figuring out something new, that uncomfortable feeling of not being sure how to do this.
My aspiration this fall isn't to do it all right, it's to show up in this moment, this new stage of my life, open to the vulnerability of not knowing. My plan is to practice being who I am without trying to be perfect or masterful or sure. My toolkit is love--loving myself even as I'm confused, embarrassed, awkward, and emotional; loving my family as they're making their own way through changes (rather than trying to control them, fix them, or rescue them!); and loving my community and this world as we navigate chaotic world transitions together. Would you like to join me?
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.