My best parenting has nothing to do with following rules. It comes from my heart, and I mean heart in the sense of both love and courage (couer/heart).
Whether I'm saying yes to something even though it makes me nervous or no so something that my kids will freak out about, parenting from the heart can be scary. That's one way that mindfulness helps me. It doesn't give me any simple answers, but it does help me to sort out the attachments, desires, fears, and worries that can be so confusing. With mindful awareness, I drop through layers of that stuff to get to a calmer, clearer, and wiser Self.
This doesn't guarantee a great (or even good) decision. Sometimes I sit and breathe and still don't know what's the best thing to do. Sometimes I still react impulsively even though I think I'm being mindful. But my practice and an engaged heart help me to do my best. And that is enough.
I offer this short practice, Mindfulness for Hard Times, as something that may help you settle if and when you're in a challenging moment.
If you have been writing 5 wonderful things about yourself each day, take a moment to reflect on how that has been. Would you like to continue? A wonderful variation is to notice 5 wonderful things about your child each day, try it and see how it goes!
One way that we can care for ourselves is to be present, not caught up in experiences of the past or worries about the future. In the article Five Steps to MIndfulness, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh shares teachings about how to practice mindfulness. Here is an excerpt that can get you started:
First Mindfulness Exercise: Mindful Breathing
by Thich Nhat Hanh
The first exercise is very simple, but the power, the result, can be very great. The exercise is simply to identify the in-breath as in-breath and the out-breath as out-breath. When you breathe in, you know that this is your in-breath. When you breathe out, you are mindful that this is your out-breath.
Just recognize: this is an in-breath, this is an out-breath. Very simple, very easy. In order to recognize your in-breath as in-breath, you have to bring your mind home to yourself. What is recognizing your in-breath is your mind, and the object of your mind—the object of your mindfulness—is the in-breath. Mindfulness is always mindful of something. When you drink your tea mindfully, it’s called mindfulness of drinking. When you walk mindfully, it’s called mindfulness of walking. And when you breathe mindfully, that is mindfulness of breathing.
So the object of your mindfulness is your breath, and you just focus your attention on it. Breathing in, this is my in-breath. Breathing out, this is my out-breath. When you do that, the mental discourse will stop. You don’t think anymore. You don’t have to make an effort to stop your thinking; you bring your attention to your in-breath and the mental discourse just stops. That is the miracle of the practice. You don’t think of the past anymore. You don’t think of the future. You don’t think of your projects, because you are focusing your attention, your mindfulness, on your breath.
It gets even better. You can enjoy your in-breath. The practice can be pleasant, joyful. Someone who is dead cannot take any more in-breaths. But you are alive. You are breathing in, and while breathing in, you know that you are alive. The in-breath can be a celebration of the fact that you are alive, so it can be very joyful. When you are joyful and happy, you don’t feel that you have to make any effort at all. I am alive; I am breathing in. To be still alive is a miracle. The greatest of all miracles is to be alive, and when you breathe in, you touch that miracle. Therefore, your breathing can be a celebration of life.
An in-breath may take three, four, five seconds, it depends. That’s time to be alive, time to enjoy your breath. You don’t have to interfere with your breathing. If your in-breath is short, allow it to be short. If your out-breath is long, let it be long. Don’t try to force it. The practice is simple recognition of the in-breath and the out-breath. That is good enough. It will have a powerful effect.
As we're doing each day this week, start with a moment to consider yourself and the things that make you wonderful. Make an actual written list, 5 things you love about yourself. Notice how you feel as you write it. If you've been doing this for a few days, are you feeling different than you were the first day? Is it easier or harder, pleasant or unpleasant?
Today I want to share another small way to build self-care into your busy life. Here are five ways to practice mindfulness in the small moments, either in addition to your regular sitting practice or if you don't yet have a practice going. Consider trying each of them today. If there are one or two that you enjoy, build them into your daily routine.
The trick for using these small moments of mindfulness is remembering to do them! It helps to choose a reminder that will bring you to mindfulness--stopping at a red light, closing your car door, hearing the sound that your phone makes when you get a text or an email, or a chime that you set on purpose on your phone or computer.
On Sundays, I offer a mindfulness practice. Today, it is very simple, try it! There's an audio below if you like to listen.
Sit somewhere that you can feel comfortable and relaxed. Settle into a posture that's dignified--your spine is straight and tall, your head feels balanced. If you're on the floor, make sure that your knees feel supported (either with pillows propped under them or with a cushion under your bottom so your knees are lower than your hips). If you are on a chair, let your feet be flat on the floor and sit upright.
Notice what your body can feel. Take a moment to anchor in what your experience of your body is right now.
Let yourself get still, starting with feeling your feet and letting them get very still, then slowing moving up through your body until everything is as still and calm as it can be.
As the stillness spreads over you, start to feel the breath moving you. Feel it in your belly.
Breathing in, feel your inbreath.
Breathing out, feel your outbreath.
Breathing in, follow your whole inbreath.
Breathing out, follow your whole outbreath.
Inwardly, just notice your breath moving in your belly, gently staying aware of it. If and when your mind wanders, gently return to the breath as soon as you notice. No problem.
As you sit, stay present with your body, here and now, breathing. Notice how it feels to breathe. Let yourself enjoy it. Maybe you will feel your body soften and relax a bit.
After a few minutes, 5 or 10 or 15, check in with your body again. Take a few breaths while you feel your sensations. Begin to bring movement into your fingers and toes. Let your eyes open when you feel ready. Check in with yourself, noticing how you feel. Appreciate that you've given yourself this time!
Our world can be a heartbreaking place. Even within our own families there are deep challenges, let alone things we hear about in the news, the refugee crisis, injustice, climate change, war, and so much more. I often want to turn away from difficult news to protect myself from feeling it all. I feel angry, maybe because it’s somehow safer than feeling the pain. I want to cut myself off from 'those people' who are doing bad things, demonizing them rather than feeling my heart connect with their hearts.
I’m not saying that we need to be okay with everything people do, we don't. But we can be present with each person as a human being, recognizing the imperfect expression of their divinity just as we recognize that within ourselves.
When we pull into the rational mind and bypass the vulnerable and sensitive response to tragic things happening around us, we grow numb. And when we are numb to one part of our experience, we are numb to it all, there's no way to stay selectively open. So the only thing to do is to practice getting close and listening to the sad, irrational, needy, angry parts of ourselves. Of the world. Of our kids. We just need to slow down, listen, and feel.
To build your ability to open your heart, consider trying loving kindness practice.
Sit and breathe, following the breath and resting a hand on your belly or heart. Notice where you are and simply be present with yourself without judging, rushing, or bypassing. Remember some wonderful things about yourself, some of your most loving and kind moments, and watch the memories like movies in your mind to remember your best nature.
And then say these words to yourself, slowly and imagining each one as you say it:
May I be filled with loving kindness (picture what you look like, what you are doing),
May I be healthy and strong (imagine how you look, where you are, who you are with),
May I be calm and peaceful (again, picture it),
May I be happy (smile).
Repeat this a few times. And then consider a person you love, picture them, and send these words to them a few times. Notice how you feel.
When you're ready, consider a person you're having a hard time with and send these words to them several times. Again, notice how you feel.
When any one of us spends time sitting quietly and being aware of the still, calm place inside, everyone benefits. Even if our children do not sit and formally practice meditation, they will experience the peace we bring. This is true even when our sitting practice doesn't feel calm and peaceful. When we sit with the intent to be still and aware, that is enough.
If we do this not just one day, but every day, the benefit for ourselves and the world. And when we practice meditation not alone, but with a group, the benefit grows even more.
Will you join me? Let's plan that Sundays are a parent meditation day. Let's join together, connecting our hearts and intention, breathing together quietly each Sunday. Whether you wake up in a quiet house and meditate with a candle and incense (as I like to do, especially now that my teens sleep in!), or you take some quiet minutes while your little ones are napping, or even if you practice in the midst of family life--breathing consciously as you change a diaper or wash the dishes or fold the clothes. let's share this practice. We are all connected to each other and to moms and dads around the world. Let's feel that connection in our silence today.
Check out the video linked in comments below for some inspiration about sharing this practice!
There's a story (with several, somewhat conflicting versions including in Jack Kornfield's The Wise Heart) of a thick and heavy clay statue of the Buddha in a monastery in Thailand. This statue was damaged in a move, opening a crack in the clay and revealing gold underneath. As monks chipped the clay away, they discovered that the statue was actually made of solid gold. Historians believe the Buddha statue was covered with clay to protect it from a military attack many years earlier.
I love this story! It reminds us of something important and true. We are each, at our center, a Buddha, a Christ, a being of great love. We have been covered with layers of mud and plaster, layers that were meant to protect us. There comes a time that those layers begin to fall away. That's a scary and often painful process, but ultimately frees our golden inner nature to shine.
If cracks are appearing in your life, maybe things already didn't seem great and are now kind of falling apart, Look beyond the surface. What is being revealed? Is your own golden Buddha-nature ready to make its appearance?
There are aspects of mindfulness that so important that we should really consider them life skills.
The first one I want to share is the practice of being aware of thoughts, feelings, and sensations without reacting to them.
Feelings, thoughts, or sensations are not inherently good or bad, kind or unkind. And we aren't good or bad for having them. We can not control, and are not responsible for, thoughts, feelings, and sensations. We can, with awareness, choose how to respond.
No matter what comes up in us, it is possible to choose from a range of possible responses. For example, when I feel angry, there are many possible responses, both internally and externally. I may have a strong impulse to yell, but it is possible to be very angry and quiet, aware, and open to the feeling. This is a mindful experience of anger.
The practice of mindfulness builds awareness in us, helping us to notice the sensations, feelings, and thoughts that we usually react to unconsciously. We can use mindful practices to pause and notice body sensations, breath, thoughts and feelings, helping us to stay present rather than get hijacked by the experience.
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.