One of the major keys to conscious parenting that Amy has uncovered in her podcasts, is being willing to look at ourselves – not just our children – with radical compassion. When we as parents take time to cultivate practices such as mindfulness and meditation, we bring awareness to where our children are opening up opportunities for us to grow together as spiritual beings. We break out of the noise and stress of our day, interrupt our automatic thinking, and drop into that magical space of presence.
We talk a lot at Soul Path Parenting about presence as an essential element in helping our children live their best lives. This is because young people, especially children under the age of seven, are naturally in the here and now. This makes stillness and the ability to slow down and really listen, a powerful gateway to connecting in love with our precious little ones.
It’s also a blessing for us as parents. We get to be reminded that our monkey-minds and stress filled days of going and doing and striving and struggling, are not actually who we are. Through our children, we are offered the choice to slow down, and return to stillness and wonder.
Transitions As Opportunity for Presence
One of the most challenging parts of my and my husband’s parenting right now is transitions. He and I are both small business owners with busy schedules and cell phones that light up constantly. Our three-year-old daughter, on the other hand, is immersed in a world of experimentation and exploration. Just getting her socks, coat, boots and hat on to go out the door can take upwards of twenty minutes. Often, once we’re out the door we’re already late. We have a short walk from our home to our garage, and my daughter is on a mindfulness meditation journey every time. She notices “ant-friends” on the sidewalk, squirrels chasing each other in the trees, new shoots of plants pushing up through the snow, sticks, rocks, patches of ice and dirt. All the while, I’m typically race-walking to the car, laden with bags, and shouting, “Come on! Hurry up!” (So true!! Love how you paint a picture that we can all see in our mind’s eye and relate to)
She will call out “Mommy, wait, you’re walking too fast! You left me!” What I’ve really left is the present moment. (What a beautiful example!)
Recently, I decided that I would stop running frantically ahead. I have a new practice of reminding myself that whatever activity or appointment I have us racing towards is actually not nearly as important as my daughter’s wonder at the world. And bonus, in slowing down and looking, smelling, listening and touching with her, I am given the gift of returning to that extraordinary world of childhood, where watching the clouds go by is all there is, and all that matters.
I want to be super transparent. I’m nowhere near perfect in this practice. I have found that “being present,” with my preschooler, and with myself in my own day-to-day life, is one of those pesky things that is easier said than done. So don’t beat yourself up for slipping up!
Want to Make the World a Better Place? Practice Presence
From a big picture point of view, if most of the people on the planet were present in their lives, more often than not, I feel it would be a cosmic shift into compassion and kindness. It would probably do more for global warming, violent conflict and dirty politics than any grandiose actions we might take.
As Steve Sachs says in episode 11, “Beautiful Buddhist-Inspired Approaches to Nurturing and Guiding Children,” being able to remain calm, and be with our children’s emotions – especially the ones that make us the most uncomfortable as adults – like sadness and anger – can have a huge impact. When we as parents can overcome our initial desire to quickly shift our child out of what we perceive to be hurtful or unpleasant feelings, we honor the goodness of all parts of ourselves and our children.
I cannot stress enough how healing this can be for parent and child alike. There was a time in my life when I struggled with addiction. For years I was caught in the shame cycle of it all. Then I read a book by Gary Zukov, “Spiritual Partnership: The Journey to Authentic Power,” where he described the same practice that Steve and the teachers at Alaya school use to sooth preschoolers. I’ll never forget him saying, that if you can stop making the habit and yourself wrong, and instead, sit with the craving, sit with the panic, sit with the anxiety, and ride it out, it will pass. I was able to do this practice over and over again, until I reached a place where I could trust and love myself. And the addictive habit fell away. The key was to stop making myself wrong. (Yes!)
Parenting from a Place of Presence
Now, in my own parenting, I’m very careful to avoid labeling my daughter’s experiences as “good” or “bad,” “right” or “wrong.” It’s really challenging when she’s having a toddler-style meltdown to pause when every fiber of my being wants to yell, “Stop it! Just stop it,” or bribe her with a treat for “being a good girl and not crying today.” But what I’ve found is much more powerful, is that if I can get present, and then get curious and empathize in the moment – not necessarily agree – but be open to hearing what’s going on, I can create calm and connection.
I will say something like: “I see you’re really upset right now. Let’s do a check in. Look at me in the eyes. What are you upset about?” And then I will listen and not argue with adult logic or practicalities. When I get what the emotion is that’s running through her, I can say “Wow, I can see how not being able to go swimming today, and having to run errands with mommy, is really frustrating. I get that. I get frustrated too. I’d rather be at the pool with you today, but sometimes there are grown up things that I have to do.”
As Steve and Amy talk about in the podcast (put link here) I bend down to her level, look her in the eye, and be with whatever emotions are welling up in her. Recently, in the middle of a total meltdown, I did this. I didn’t try to distract her in order to get us moving on. I said “Wow, I really feel how upset you are.” I didn’t move. I just sat on the floor and waited. After about three minutes that felt like an eternity, she stopped crying and came over to me. Her attention shifted to a book on the floor, and moved on. (So powerful. This has been my experience too. We need to share this so more parents try it!)
I wholeheartedly believe that if I were to parent from a place of making her outburst wrong, then I’d be making being frustrated wrong, and I’d be ingraining in her a belief that something is wrong with her deep down.
I have spent my entire adult life trying to understand why I, and every human being I know, has this deep-seated root of “Something is wrong with me and I have to hide it. I’m not good enough, and I don’t want the world to find out.” I’ve heard it called the “Imposter Syndrome.”
Through my parenting journey so far, I now see that a big part of this can be overcome by stopping and listening to our children, and being willing to ride out and honor all of our experiences and emotions, and too avoid labeling some as “bad” and some as “good.”
It’s in this way, as Steve Sachs says, that we honor the inherent goodness in ourselves and our children. (Love it.)