What is called for in the cultivation of mindfulness, and in mindful parenting, rather than judging, is discernment, the ability to look deeply into something and perceive distinctions keenly and with clarity.
Discernment is the ability to see this and that, as opposed to this or that, to see the whole picture, and its fine details, to see gradations. Being discerning is an inward sign of respect for reality because we are taking note of subtleties as well as the gross outline of things, aware of complexity and mystery. There is a fairness in it, a rightness in it, because it is truer to the whole of reality…
When we bring mindfulness and discernment to our parenting, we come to see how much we tend to judge our own children as well as ourselves as parents. We have opinions about them and who they are and how they should be, and hold them up against some standard that we have created in our minds. When we judge our children in this way, we cut ourselves off from them and us. We also cut ourselves off from ourselves by contracting and becoming rigid. By intentionally suspending judgment and cultivating discernment, we create the potential to reconnect with them.
Discernment includes seeing that even as we attempt to see our children for who they are, we cannot fully know who they are or where their lives will take them.
We can only love them, accept them, and honor the mystery of their being.
~ Myla + Jon Kabat-Zinn, “Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting”
I’m recycling my commentary to the Q&A with Jamie Lynne Grumet that I reblogged a few days ago along with related articles addressing the issue, including Dr. Sears’ respond to the hype.
As a mother who has instinctively practiced “natural”, “attachment,” or “connected” parenting, I applaud Jamie Lynne Grumet’s courage to appear on the cover of Time.
The image is undeniably and deliberately provocative. And, in some ways, problematic.
Though not for the reasons that most folks will immediately think.
Along with the caption “Are You Mom Enough?” this cover adds fuel to the “tyranny of comparison“ (to borrow the phrase that continues to resonate with me long after hearing it in Buddhist teacher Martin Aylward’s dharma talk Work, Sex, Money, Dharma.) between working and at-home mothers.
As well, it excludes from the picture the vital presence of fathers who are equally committed to this way of parenting.
I appreciate Jamie’s awareness of the unfortunate negativity (guilt, resentment, judgement, etc.) this will spark and can only hope that the full article will present a more complete and balanced view than its cover.
May all parents be released from suffering
the tyranny of comparison. May all parents be inspired to be
the best nurturers, educators, and providers they can be and make skillful choices that serve the well-being of their families.
I was moved by this beautiful image circulating around Facebook last fall. These children, connected to the earth, connected to one another, through laughter and play, are radiant with the fullness of life and love. A love that is boundless— permeating and nourishing all it touches, and being fed in return by the breath and hope of all living things.
Seeing this instantly brought to mind these lines from the Metta Sutta (or Discourse on Love):
“Just as a mother loves and protects her only child at the risk of her own life,
cultivate boundless love to offer to all living beings in the entire cosmos.
Let our boundless love pervade the whole universe, above, below, and across.
Our love will know no obstacles. Our heart will be absolutely free from hatred and enmity.
Whether standing or walking, sitting or lying, as long as we are awake,
we should maintain this mindfulness of love in our own heart.
There’s something magical about waking up with my lovey-boy before dawn on the days that surround the full and change of the moon.
Sometimes for K, it’s a tossing-and-turning to find the right nook to snuggle into, a fluttering of eyes, a murmuring of dreamy words, a giggle- and-yawny stretch. Hands reaching out, knees nudging, toes burrowing—the reassuring warmth of skin. And, once in a while, he’s wired for sound! Popping up to play with cars or to read books as if the sun were streaming brightly through his window.
When I alone am awake, I rest in contemplation or sit in meditation. These witching hours are made for listening deeply and seeing clearly by the twinkle of stars that light the path.
Insight is a gift not the goal. Some things are illuminated, others released. Often, nothing at all appears to be happening. Yet it’s more than enough to abide in the hush, to simply feel and hear my breath subtle and distinct. Quietly, steadily just being me.
Attuned to this spirit time, I feel energized rather than depleted. I am awake—moving easily through the day on merely a few hours of sleep, sustained by the magnetic wisdom of the moon.
Guerrilla Learning is coloring outside the lines, finding the shortest direction between two points, moving directly toward goals, doing the best you can with what you’ve got to work with now, making what you want for your kids and what they want for themselves as real as you can, asking people for specific kinds of help, getting out of theory land and into the trenches, realizing that schools could take centuries to significantly improve (or to get out of the way altogether) and that meanwhile your children are barreling through childhood…
In a nutshell, Guerrilla Learning means taking responsibility for your own education.And Guerrilla Learning is relaxing—knowing that you’ve made a lot of mistakes as a parent (and an educator) and that you’ll make a lot more, and that that’s okay—your kids are resilient; it’s not all up to you, and life will provide.
For young people, that includes thinking clearly and seriously about one’s own goals, interests, and values—then acting accordingly.
For parents, it means supporting your child in doing so.
It might mean giving your child a kind of freedom that may seem risky or even crazy at first.
And it also means continuing your own involvement in the world of ideas and culture, continuing to read, to think, to discuss, and to create––and being a walking, talking invitation to your kids to do the same.
Let me first state that I do not subscribe to the common expectation that a toddler’s transition to the age of two will be terrible!
Even at the height of my son’s spontaneous emotional swirl-nados, I steadfastly refuse to be trapped by what I see is a trite label and myopic view in child development that doesn’t foster deep, compassionate understanding. Yes, there will be tantrums! Frequent and at times seemingly relentless. But there are far too many magical moments (and, in general, enough madness) in parenthood to flat-out condemn this developmental phase as a requisite breath-holding, loin-girding battle of the wills.
What these natural growing pains require are deep breaths, gentle words, easy smiles, open arms, sympathetic hearts and creative minds. The magic is revealed when we greet the madness with such mindfulness and, whenever possible, humor.
“No” and its variants are running neck-and-neck with “Mommy” as the utterance we hear most frequently. Be it emphatic and loud, soft and sweet, plaintive or matter-of-fact, our growing list of the ways in which K expresses his resistance—er, preference—currently includes:
No, thank you.
Not doing/Not going…
And, once: No way, José! (for which I take total responsibility)
Not all of these “no” moments are cause for alarm. Many, I must admit, are hysterical to me—and I get so tickled that I can hardly suppress my laughter! In those laughable cases, my mate and I typically find it easy to redirect K’s attention and energy. If his persistence cannot be ignored, we are not above negotiating with Altoids (our newest useful tool) to allay potential meltdowns and encourage cooperation from our mint-crazed kid.
But I mindfully gauge my response to each situation (namely, turning away if I’m particularly giggly) so as not to invalidate K’s feelings. When I notice that he’s beginning to struggle with his emotions, I ask whether he needs help, a hug or both. Any of those are effective in the easiest scenarios.
Of course, we parents wouldn’t stretch and grow into our wise and skillful selves if we only had the easy. In the toughest moments K’s alter, The No-Bot, emerges to unequivocally and inconsolably refuse all aid!
Now comes the deep breathing…and, I give K the space to work it all out: He’ll clomp upstairs and fling himself onto the bed, hiding under the covers whenever I check in. Or, run off to pout in a corner or shut himself in a closet or the bathroom. Yes, all of these dramatic gestures from a child on the cusp of two years old!
Even in the midst of this I remain amused and amazed by how well this child of mine knows his own mind and fearlessly expresses it. Most important, I recognize and respect that K is a little person who doesn’t yet know what to do with all these big new feelings and ideas blooming inside. It’s not necessary, helpful or appropriate to exhaust myself by demanding his obedience. As a connected parent, I understand that when children don’t “feel right” they have difficulty demonstrating the behavior we deem “acting right” and learning to manage feelings is a slow and gradual practice (for kids and adults alike).
This wide open perspective serves us both: K learns that he can freely and safely experience a full range of natural emotion such as frustration (the most common because he can’t do or have something), anger, discomfort, fear or confusion without punishment. I not only foster trust and compassionate communication between us, but also exercise patience and conserve energy. I model the calm behavior and, slowly and gradually, nurture those seeds of calm in him.
So I wait nearby, quietly assuring him that I understand and am ready to help, to hold, to hug.
Then that moment of intensity passes. K settles into my arms. I rock him and sing the calm down song until his breath comes smooth and steady. (Ah, the magic of songs and education-based kids’ programming that can be used as empowerment tools for parents and their little ones. Another jewel for magic + mindfulness: Anh’s Anger.)
Now I know he’s ready to listen. I replay the scenario and translate his feelings into simple words: you wanted to do this, mommy said that, you felt mad…and so on. Sometimes, I take him to stand before the mirror so he can see how his feelings look. I tell him that it’s okay, that he’s growing and learning, and still needs help from mommy and daddy.
I look into K’s eyes and say, “Gimme your nose!” Giggling, we rub our noses together in an Eskimo kiss. Into this simple, loving gesture I breathe my willingness to receive all his no’s with mindfulness. K’s transient outburst is already forgotten. Centered and at ease once more, he zips off to the next new experience.
This afternoon I will step out of the family Easter dinner to enjoy walking and sitting meditation with my yoga-sangha.
When I realized that my regular Sunday practice fell squarely in the center of the high holy days of Passover and Easter, and at the end of the Religious Awareness Week our local university organized (and at which my dharma sister shared and led a Zen meditation practice), I was inspired to re-read Thich Nhat Hanh’s contemplations in Living Buddha, Living Christ.
Here, I share some of the passages that resonate with my personal experiences of the interbeingness of Buddhism (the practice that began to organically blossom in my life before I even knew it formally as “Buddhism”), Christianity (the practice in which I was raised and often felt at-odds with) and Judaism (the practice of my maternal great-great grandmother that I came to touch through my Jewish dharma sisters who have invited me to celebrate holy days such as Passover and Yom Kippur). In my practice today, I will touch the earth in honor of my spiritual ancestors and teachers.
“RELIGIOUS LIFE IS LIFE”
To me, religious life is life. I do not see any reason to spend one’s whole life tasting just one kind of fruit. We human beings can be nourished by the best values of many traditions.
Professor Hans Kung has said, “Until there is peace between religions, there can be no peace in the world.” People kill and are killed because they cling too tightly to their own beliefs and ideologies. When we believe that ours is the only faith that contains truth, violence and suffering will surely be the result. The second precept of the Order of Interbeing, founded within the Zen Buddhist tradition during the war in Vietnam, is about letting go of views: “Do not think the knowledge you presently possess is changeless, absolute truth. Avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views. Learn and practice nonattachment from views in order to receive others’ viewpoints.” To me, this is the most essential practice of peace.
But my path to discovering Jesus as one of my spiritual ancestors was not easy. The colonization of my country by the French was deeply connected with the efforts of the Christian missionaries…In such an atmosphere of discrimination and injustice against non-Christians, it was difficult for me to discover the beauty of Jesus’ teachings.
It was only later, through friendships with Christian men and women who truly embody the spirit of understanding and compassion of Jesus, that I have been able to touch the depths of Christianity. The moment I met Martin Luther King, Jr., I knew I was in the presence of a holy person. Not just his good work but his very being was a source of great inspiration for me. And others, less well known, have made me feel that Lord Jesus is still here with us…Through men and women like these, I feel I have been able to touch Jesus Christ and His Tradition.
“LIVING IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD”
In the Jewish tradition, the sacredness of mealtimes is very much emphasized. You cook, set the table, and eat in the presence of God. “Piety” is an important word in Judaism, because all of life is a reflection of God, the infinite source of holiness. The entire world, all the good things in life, belong to God, so when you enjoy something, you think of God and enjoy it in His presence. It is very close to the Buddhist appreciation of interbeing and interpenetration…
Piety is the recognition that everything is linked to the presence of God in every moment. The Passover Seder, for example, is a ritual meal to celebrate the freedom of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt and their journey home. During the meal, certain vegetables and herbs, salt, and other condiments help us touch what happened in the past—what was our suffering and what was our hope. This is a practice of mindfulness.
“ENJOY BEING ALIVE”
To breathe and know you are alive is wonderful. Because you are alive, everything is possible. The Sangha, the community of practice, can continue. The church can continue. Please don’t waste a single moment. Every moment is an opportunity to breathe life into the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. Every moment is an opportunity to manifest the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit…
You need only to walk in mindfulness, making peaceful, happy steps on our planet. Breathe deeply, and enjoy your breathing. Be aware that the sky is blue and the birds’ songs are beautiful. Enjoy being alive and you will help the living Christ and the living Buddha continue for a long, long time.
Without question, I’m my kid’s best friend right now.
“Here, Mommy!”…He insists, stuffing a car (or five) in my hand.
“Whatchu doing, Mommy?”…He inquires, looking into my eyes while sitting on my lap.
“Where are you, Mommy?”…He shouts, moments after I’ve told him I’m heading to the next room.
“Mommy-Mami-Ami-Ami-Ami-Ami!”…He chants when he needs me and no one else will do.
Even while writing this, K has wedged himself between me and the laptop—checking in now and again for cuddle time.
In these moments, I recall the word samatha (Pali/Sanskrit for “calm-abiding“) and the practice I’ve adopted to touch that quality: stopping. breathing. looking. listening.
So I accept the cars. I explain what I’m doing (talking to you, drinking coffee, reading a book). I report my location. I respond to his moment of distress as soon as it is possible and reassure him with hugs, kisses and my full attention that I am here for him.
Then from that place of calm, I can laugh and remind K that he does in fact have a father…who is often waiting nearby with arms wide open to receive him.