By Dana Gornall
Some people search far and wide for a spiritual teacher or journey.
They feel like they need to travel to another country or don special robes to become spitiual. Maybe they seek out a teacher and study sacred texts. This is one way to learn about yourself as a person and test patience, practice mindfulness and find ways to be broken open.
Another way is to be a parent. Nothing shines a light up to our weakness and shortcomings more than being sleep deprived, having your body become a human milk machine, training a toddler to learn how to use the potty and get up in time for work without being late. And it doesn’t stop there.
Whether they are in diapers, pulls ups, shopping for a first bra or applying for college scholarships, kids will inspire, delight, sadden, worry, motivate, exasperate, move and touch you in ways you ever knew could.
Parenting is a spiritual journey, so why not use these tools to guide us through it?
This is meditation of loving kindness. Typically this is directed six ways. First, we send loving kindness to ourselves. Seems easy enough, but think about it—how many times do we beat ourselves up as parents?
We tell ourselves we screwed up, we compare ourselves to other parents that seem to be doing a better job, we mentally scold ourselves for not being enough.
Send yourself some loving kindness, Mama. Even on your worst days you are moving mountains. For me, sometimes this step alone is enough to bring me to tears.
Second, send it to someone you love or care about. This can be a child, a spouse, a parent, a best friend—anyone that we say hands down and no doubt we hold fierce love for that person.
Third, send it to a “neutral” person. Send it to your neighbor that waves hello every morning when you head out the door. Send it to the coffee barista at Starbucks. These people are neither a frustration or a support system but they are on the fringe of our lives as we are theirs and they are fighting their own demons and rejoicing in their own successes. Why not send them love?
Fourth, send it to the person that makes you want to pull out your hair right now. This could be your spouse, your partner, your boss or—yes, your child. As a matter of fact, this is a great tool to use when your child is throwing a temper tantrum while in line to see Frozen at the movie theater. It is the perfect practice when your teen has decided to sleep late and not wash the dishes like you have asked and now wants you to take her to the mall.
Stop, breathe, loving kindness before I turn into a raging lunatic.
Fifth, send loving kindness to all the four people equally and then sixth, send it out to the entire universe. Ahh, now that feels better. I can discipline, talk, direct myself in a loving manner—I hope.
This type of meditation is a little different. The first time I heard of this I was wary. I had always thought the best practice was to release negativity and draw in positivity, but with Tonglen we do the opposite. With this type of meditation we envision the hurt or pain a person is going through and we bring it in to ourselves. We take their pain, mentally and then we send out love and healing.
So let’s say your toddler or preschooler is having a melt down and you are tried, over-worked and at the end of your rope. This is when we lose it, isn’t it? We cry, we yell, we walk away, we lash out on them or other members of our family. What if we pause and focus on what our child is feeling? What if we think about their frustrations right at the moment and send them love?
Okay, maybe they will still be lying on the floor kicking and screaming when you are done but at least we feel a little more centered and calm.
I found this type of meditation particularly helpful with teens. One aspect I have noticed in parenting teens is that it is a lot of emotional giving with a lot less return than when they were small. Little kids have melt downs but return for kisses and hugs later on. Teens aren’t typically as affectionate. As a matter of fact, most teens are in a phase of the world revolves around them.
This is common and normal and doesn’t mean as parents we are to back down and give everything we have without expectations. But pausing for a moment and considering where they are in this process can help parents deal with this challenging phase.
Think about it. Most of us went through a similar time where we felt our parents didn’t understand us. Most of us didn’t appreciate all that our parents did for us until we became adults ourselves. Taking the time to recognize this and see the world from our child’s eyes can help us approach them with more compassionately. It can help us parent with loving kindness.
Most of the time the decisions we face as parents are not easy. There is no black and white, there is no pat answer. We are caught in an internal struggle of being consumed with fierce love for our children and utter exasperation. We have our energy zapped, our patience pushed to the limits and our hearts bursting at the seams. We are broken open again and again until we think we can’t be broken again. We find strength we didn’t know we had and love like we didn’t know existed.
This isn’t a path for the weak. But it is one that changes.
The parent in me bows to the parent in you.
*originally posted on elephant journal.