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 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.
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?
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?
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 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.
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)
Whatever life brings you today, may you be
Whenever I think someone shouldn't be how they are--
When I turn inward and tend to my own discomfort, interesting things happen. Body sensations and feelings arise and, with time, fall away. My heart opens to myself and the shadowy place within me that is react. Magically, my heart also opens to the person I was upset with.
Sometimes this leaves me able to be present for them in their anger or pain. Other times it moves me to speak, perhaps saying something that's scary for me to say or painful for them to hear. After caring for my own uncomfortable feelings, my voice is clearer, gentler, and at the same time closer to truth.
The moments that I want to push something away become my teachers when I allow them to be.
I saw this image on Facebook this morning and felt the call to write a little something.
We all want this, right? Someone to love us for our real, messy, hard selves. Someone to accept who we truly are. Someone who can handle the whole truth.
Our kids want and need it, too.
The someone we're looking for is us. You are the one who needs to love yourself for the person that you are, even when you're messy. Can you do it? Will you practice it with me? A simple practice of noticing a messy part of yourself, imagining it as a baby, and holding that baby with love can change your life.
Loving ourselves as we are helps us to heal. Then we can love our kids as they are. And our partners, colleagues, strangers on the road. . .
What if it's okay to feel what you feel today? Whether you're angry or worried or tired or elated, how would it be to just feel it? To breathe into it, maybe while you're sitting quietly in a room alone, or maybe as you vacuum or make lunch for fussy kids or try to get through a shift at work.
To give yourself permission to be who you are.
To allow yourself to feel what you feel.
To make space for what is, knowing that mental judgments can't change feelings and sensations and emotions.
Most of all, to know that you are okay, even if you are feeling something.
Today, I wish for self-acceptance for you and for me.
Today I found myself saying 'being a parent can suck.' It really can, right? Snow days and early dismissals don't affect my parenting anymore (and that will be true for you, too, one day, if it isn't already), but I remember. I remember feeling overwhelmed by trying to maintain some sense of routine in our family, feeling exhausted by all of the emotions and needs in one little house, feeling like I needed to take care of everyone but myself, and feeling like I couldn't face feeding everyone one more meal.
I hate to join the multitudes offering advice, but I have some for you (or maybe for the me that needed it):
Between the holidays, vacation, snow days, and extremely cold weather, some of us are feeling overwhelmed by our kids and responsibilities. Yesterday I escaped the house (although I didn't go for the long walk I could really use!) and walked past a woman muttering, "God help me" as she tried to herd her family into the store with her. Isn't that beautiful? Not "I want to kill them," or "Why the hell doesn't anyone listen to me?" but a simple (slightly desperate) prayer for help.
We do need help as parents. We can't do this on our own. Today, as I sit inside again, wondering if I have the guts to go for that long walk, I am sending love to the woman I saw yesterday and to all of us.
May we all remember to ask for the help we need.
May we find a quiet moment to refresh ourselves.
May we come home to the present moment, letting go of the fantasy life that makes us feel inadequate.
May we take a few moments to love ourselves right in the midst of life as it is.
May we have the grace to see our families as they are, opening to each person in this moment rather than comparing them to the fantasy kids we think we should have.
May we be blessed with a community that helps when we need it the most.
May we remember that this too shall pass.
Sending you love and light on this beautiful, bitter cold day.
Sometimes our kids aren't cooperating with our idea of how things should be. Maybe they're sleeping poorly, bickering over toys, or screentime, rolling their eyes at our funny jokes, ignoring the schoolwork that we know they should be doing, etc.
When we aren't feeling happy or proud or satisfied or even calm, it's good to remember that they aren't here to make us happy. They aren't here to make us proud. They aren't here to make us feel satisfied or calm.
It's up to us. Can we free them from the responsibility to make us happy or proud? Can we be responsible for our own needs and feelings and allow them to be the messy, beautiful beings they are here to be? Let's enjoy the relationship we actually have with them, the ways they are growing, and (maybe most importantly) our own company on this parenting journey.
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.