You Can Be Tender with Yourself
Almost every day people tell me how they're feeling with the disclaimer, "It doesn't make any sense."
Almost every day, I gently explain that it does make sense. Our feelings make a kind of sense that isn't intellectual.
To understand ourselves, though (which is one of the most healing things we can do), we have to attune to our bodies and hearts.
'My heart feels heavy.'
'My legs are shaking.'
'Everything feels so hopeless.'
'I feel so angry about everything.'
Then we offer some tenderness. Imagine saying to yourself, "I am here for you." Then offering one bit of tender care--soft words, a stretch, emotional acknowledgment, a drink of water, a minute to rest your feet in the grass.
There's a Difference
As parents, we get stressed
because we're tired,
because our kids are often unreasonable,
because we often take care of other people's needs before our own,
because there is so much to do,
and for a million other reasons.
But we get triggered because there's an unmet need inside of us that something is waking up.
When this happens, notice your thoughts and words. Maybe you think or say,
"Why doesn't anyone think about me?"
"You better listen to me right now!"
"It's not my fault you didn't do your homework/chores/piano practice."
"Get in this car right now or I will throw every toy you own in the trash."
Or a million other things. What we say hints at the underlying unmet need. Our kids can't meet the need for us, and even our parents can't meet the need. It's internalized into us now, and that's where we need to meet it.
Why Do I Get So Upset With My Kid?
What's so hard about parenting isn't their emotions, it's our emotions!
When my kids didn't listen to me, I got triggered. And I thought it was their fault! That put the responsibility for my emotional well-being and behavior firmly onto my children.
I really knew, of course, that my feelings weren't their fault. Still, something deeply rooted in my nervous system got overwhelmed, felt helpless, and took over much of the time when I was upset.
Learning to notice the feelings in myself,
to name them,
to feel them in my body, and most importantly,
to tend to them and parent the big feelings that can so easily hijack me when I don't prioritize them,
has made big changes in how I relate to my kids.
An Inner Voice
"The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice. "
The way we talk, our assumptions and expectations, how we respond to their struggles, all of these form our children's inner voice. Our own inner voice, too, has been formed by parents and teachers and culture.
When we're struggling as adults, it's easy to feel that the problems are outside of us (and of course they are to some extent!). Our struggles are also the internalized beliefs of that inner voice, telling us we're not good enough, or that we shouldn't be sad, or that we have to fix something even when we don't know how to, or (fill in the blank).
There's nobody around us who can change that. Our kids, friends, even our parents can't change it, because it's an internalized story from the past.
But we can change it! When we notice the voice--learning to listen as though it's the voice of a little one, naming the emotion, handling it gently and lovingly, offering connection to our lost little inner child, we can rewrite the old stories that are stuck inside of us.
Transforming the inner voice is possible, courageous, freeing, and a service to this messy world.
Connecting with Ourselves
And (continuing from the past couple of days), the 'standing with' we can do as parents isn't only for our kids! Even as we're showing up as competent adults in the world, we carry these tender, vulnerable little kids around inside of us. Everything you experienced as a little one is still with you. The emotional experiences you had without the support of caring adults rise up sometimes, and when that happens it can feel like being taken over by an irrational child, an abandoned kid, or an angry teen.
Learning to stay close to that inner kid--loving yourself even as you're angry or scared or feeling abandoned with the weight of the world on your shoulders--is the most powerful thing I've ever practiced. Want to try?
Next time you're feeling something strong, you could try this.
Just like our kids deserve to know that we can handle their messy feelings, we deserve to know that for ourselves.
Showing Kids They're Safe
For our kids to feel safe (continuing from yesterday's post), they need to feel us willing to stand with them. Keeping them safe in a concrete/material way is both important and impossible, especially when they're at particular risk in this messy world--when they're BIPOC, LBGTQI+, neurodivergent, ill, living in poverty, in a war zone or violent area, in a home with domestic violence, carrying personal and/or family trauma, etc. As loving parents, we need to do what we can while recognizing that we can not control outcomes.
'Standing with' sounds simple--of course we want to do that, right?! But is that what you experienced growing up? Most of us carry invisible patterns of self-abandonment that make their way into our parenting.
How do we change these patterns? We practice asking ourselves, can I greet this complicated, beautiful, imperfect being as they are right now? Is something in my nervous system cringing or reacting or scared, wanting to coach them toward being somehow more palatable to me or the world?
Children need, so badly, the feeling that we are willing to meet them as they are. That we aren't embarrassed by them, that we can handle their messy, deep selves. They need us to stand with them as they rise up into their beautiful wholeness, even before we see where it's heading.
To clarify--this doesn't mean we overprotect or rescue our children from the real consequences of their actions. It just means that we stay close and connected while they grow. For example, when a kid hurts a friend and feels isolated or ashamed or angry, we can we sit with them in it, loving them and letting them learn what they are learning rather than disconnecting, shaming, explaining, fixing, or making it about our feelings. What's important is not that they (or we) are always comfortable but that they are not cut off from our love.
If you're parenting right now, you have a pretty complicated set of responsibilities, right? Today I want to narrow it all down to something very, very simple and foundational. For children (or any humans) to learn, function, socialize, and be healthy they need to know:
When you wake up to a cranky child, when your tween is freaking out about homework, when your teen comes home from school in a mood, let yourself wonder how your child would answer these questions.
Can you provide them with some evidence (not words, not assumption, not even the evidence from yesterday) that they are safe with you right now? Can you show them that they matter? More specifics tomorrow!
The first days and weeks of school can be exhausting. The back to school experience won't be perfect.
Whether you're missing some essential supply, your child is having trouble with friends, a teacher seems unapproachable, or there are more serious concerns, this school year won't be perfect. That doesn't mean that you're doing it wrong, it is the nature of reality!
There are some things that may help.
If you're feeling hyper-focused on a problem, stop for a bit and turn your attention inward. Get curious about how you actually feel. What's happening in your body when you think about the issue--tightness, pressure, emptiness, heat, coolness, movement, something else? Is there an emotion happening in you (basic emotions include fear, anger, happiness, surprise, disgust, sadness)? Make some space to care for your feelings. Name what you feel, breathe into it, shake it out through your arms, speak gently to yourself as you might speak to a very small child.
If your child is struggling or upset, can you be present for them without (for now) fixing the problem? Instead of pushing them to talk more than they want to, see if you can listen. Know that you can listen even to their silence and their body language, giving them time to talk when they're ready! Instead of trying to rescue them, is it possible to slow down and trust them to find their own way through the challenge? Or simply to remember that they are strong and capable beings on a learning mission. When we are steady, our children 'catch' the steadiness instead of the stress.
When you do need to do something, is it possible to find your inner wisdom before taking action? Ground yourself, drink a glass of water, feel your breath for several minutes, take a run, hold a favorite yoga pose. Take action once you've reconnected with your inner wisdom and spaciousness and are able to act from your heart.
*photo by Javardh on Unsplash.
Thoughts on Today
It’s complicated. And by ‘it’ I mean--everything.
Remembering that all of the layers tof ‘it’ are interconnected and interdependent helps. A lot. For me.
How? When I look at the world right now, I’m heartbroken, exhausted, and overwhelmed. The most basic things I know are out of sync with our culture. They include:
What’s happening in these issues can’t be understood in simple, separated, discrete ways because the issues themselves are bigger than any person, family, country, nationality, race, gender, bank account. etc. Using the lens of separation, including blame and scapegoating, is not effective.
Real and significant mistakes have led us to this moment. It’s too late to fix the mistakes we’ve made, and still we can reorient, take responsibility, and start making new choices that are informed by the mistakes we learn from.
Shifting from a narrow point of view (whether it’s shaming people for how they’re handling covid or thinking of what’s going on in Afghanistan from only a western perspective) will not create meaningful, helpful change. Instead, when we notice our thoughts and entrenched belief patterns with some curiosity, there’s an opportunity to see more clearly. When we pay attention to our feelings without being ruled by them, there’s an opportunity to feel the fear that’s so prevalent in this moment and care for it without being immobilized by it.
Finally and maybe paradoxically, we have an opportunity and a responsibility to relate to these issues in a discerning way, informed by our own wisdom. By that, I mean that we don’t have to agree with the loud voices around us, nor do we need to convince others that we’re right. Even as we are interconnected, we have the individual responsibility and opportunity to sing our own song or walk our own path.
So today, right now, I remember that I’m part of something bigger. Not the collective trauma and story of what’s wrong, but a unified, whole that’s so vast I can only sense bits of what is possible. The thoughts and feelings going on in me (and around me) matter, and I can care for them without letting them define me. And, of course, I’m going to fall into the drama. When I notice, I can climb back out and know that I am not defined by my mistakes but by how I relate to them.
It was a busy weekend of un-doing. For 6 years I’ve worked in this building, first in a smaller, shared office, and for the last 3 1/2 years right here. I’ve built a second home, a place to teach, counsel, support parents, and most recently, practice astrology. It has been a safe and loving space for many to be vulnerable and honest and accepted.
This month, I am moving out. I don’t ‘have to’ move, but there’s a clear inner prompting, ‘It’s time.’ Following inner wisdom has rarely been comfortable for me, but it has taken me closer to my own heart and the heart of my service.
So I listen.
I surrender more fully to the digital world that hosts my work right now.
I feel exhausted and grateful and confused and excited and sometimes uncomfortable.
I notice that I’m growing and shrinking at the same time. Clear that it’s time to move and absolutely uncertain about the future.
Of course, this isn’t just me. Is it happening in you? I see it in our country and the world.
This year seems to be inviting us to let go without knowing where that will take us. To practice courage rather than certainty. To find freedom rather than control.
Taking Care of Emotions
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.
The First Step
The first step on the path of mindful parenting is an inner one.
It's the step we take when we dedicate ourselves to allowing this experience to teach us. A humble step, one that acknowledges that we know everything. We are going to make mistakes (some big ones). Approaching parenting consciously won't save us from mistakes, it just gives us the support of a clear intention to wake up.
Starting on this path won't prevent us from wandering off it. We're all going to be distracted, at times, by other people's beliefs and experience. We will be tempted to blame others, projecting the problems we face onto our kids, their friends, other parents, teachers, the culture. We'll be tempted to believe that we are unworthy, inadequate, too deeply flawed for this work.
It's okay. Something will invite us back to the path. We will remember that we're here to learn and try again. We will forgive ourselves, our kids, our parents. It may hurt or be scary, but that's okay once we remember that the real work is to grow up.
If this is your path, will you dedicate yourself to it today? Start now, whether you're parenting a newborn, an adult, or even the little child within you.
Sensing the Flow
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.
Where's the Love?
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?
Making Change Step by Step
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.
Showing Up for this Moment
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?
Noticing What I Appreciate
Is somebody getting on your last nerve this week? Your child won't cooperate, your partner isn't supporting you, a colleague or neighbor just isn't noticing your boundaries? Or maybe you're getting on your own nerves?
August can feel like a 'last nerve' sort of month to me. The excitement of summer is waning, I'm kind of tired of heat and humidity, we've had a lot/too much of togetherness at home, fall will bring changing schedules and responsibilities.
Rather than react to the tensions of August, I like to take care of myself by practicing appreciation all month.
This morning when I woke up, I noticed about fifteen things that my family hadn't done (or hadn't done right). Instead of telling them, I stopped. I turned my attention to things I appreciate, the many small things they had done and the moments we had together this weekend. I told my husband a few things he's done recently that I really appreciate and shared some positive things I noticed about our kids. I also took a moment to notice positive things about myself.
It felt good.
This is my August practice, to wake up and notice five things that I'm grateful for. Sometimes I focus on myself, other times on my kids, work, house, the world, life. Little moments that I appreciate. Kindnesses shared. Help offered. Beauty observed. I'll write them, share them, or just notice.
Would you like to join me?
The Door That Opens
For me, as much as I crave and love slower summer days, they can also be difficult. When I get caught in my thoughts about all that I want--to do something special, to go for a hike, to sit in the sun, to work on my overgrown garden, to organize my house, to spend time with someone that I care about, to return phone calls, to reflect on next steps in my work, to spend an hour doing yoga--I feel disconnected from myself and my joy.
As I wrote in yesterday's post, A Mindful Vacation In This Moment, what I really need to do is gather my scattered attention and settle into awareness of the here and now. There are many things to do, but no matter how much time I have or things on my 'to do' list, I can only do one of them right now.
Today I noticed the pushing energy in me wanting to do many things at once. Then an inner reminder bubbled up, the insight that the best door to go through is the one that opens. So I sat, gathering myself into this moment, sensing not what I 'should' do, but which door is beckoning me.
A Mindful Vacation in This Moment
A mindful life, like photography, requires some intentional focus.
As we approach the last month of summer, we can choose to narrow focus from every wonderful thing we might be missing or should have done to this moment, right now,.
Would you like to join me? Take time to enjoy something that's happening right now.
Gratitude, It's a Practice
Sometimes I get tired and 'off.' My mind gets into its thing--what's happening isn't good, there's something wrong with me, I need to fix my kids. . . Today I was having those thoughts and was wise enough to stop and check in with myself.
I drew a card from my new deck (Soulful Woman cards) and was reminded to appreciate, to practice gratitude. I sat and wrote three things I am grateful for, then noticed these beautiful baby plants that I've been loving & had to take a picture.
Gratitude is an immediate game-changer. Appreciating the beauty that I find rather than focusing on what's wrong lifts my mood and brings me back to center. I am going to practice gratitude this week. Each day I'll write three small things that I'm grateful and share one gratitude-reminding picture on Instagram. I'm already feeling the love!
How are you feeling? Want to join me in a gratitude practice? Please share something you're grateful for in the comments!!
Do you know what your parents see when they really look at you (or when they did)? A beautiful, successful, radiant soul shining? Or someone who needs to lose weight, exercise, get a better job, relax, get a haircut, wear nicer clothes, speak up, quiet down . . ?
What do you see when you look at your child? Of course you love them, but when you gaze at them, what are you thinking about?
A mess about to happen?
A project or chore they haven't done yet?
A habit that needs to change?
A worry about how they will end up?
Someone who's headed for trouble?
A bad mood?
Or do you see a radiant soul?
When a baby is born we can see the soul so easily, but as life goes on we sometimes begin to see a child through the lens of our mistakes, our conditioning, and our challenging experiences. And children (and adults) can sense that, even if they don't say anything. They can see the disappointment, criticism, and worry in our eyes, just as they can see the admiration, love, and pride.
It is possible to begin seeing the radiant being in everyone with practice. To begin, we have to notice what is already happening. Today, will you join me noticing what you see? Take ten minutes to sit and write about what you notice in yourself when you look at your child. Let yourself consider whether they notice and how that may feel to them.
(this is a post that I originally shared on 7/14/2016 and felt inspired to share again today)
May You Be. . .
Whatever life brings you today, may you be
I'm a person on a messy journey--healing, learning, discovering and rediscovering. Sharing, writing, talking, and teaching help me to understand myself and the world more clearly. I hope it can help make your journey a easier, too.