Friday, November 18, 2011

Mother Mindfulness

“The child is in me still and sometimes not so still.”  
-Fred Rogers

I recently spent some time with one of my oldest and dearest friends, Claire and her gorgeous baby daughter, Vivienne.  One thing that strikes me as utterly beautiful and amazing is how loving and patient Claire is with her children. I've known her for a long time and it warms my heart to see her blossoming into such an extraordinary mother.

Having grown up with loving yet somewhat impatient parents, I am inspired by Claire's ability to deliver comfort with patience and ease.  Her love and nurturing is beautiful to witness. Though I'm sure at times Claire is not feeling so patient, she rarely lets it show and instead simply allows Vivienne to have her tantrum by holding her calmly, soothingly, and not putting her down until the strong emotion or sensation has dissolved.

Regardless of how much love we received or did not receive as children, regardless of how much older, wiser or more mature we've become, we all have an "inner child" existing somewhere beneath the surface.  Most of the time when a strong emotion passes over us as adults, its roots reach far back to an experience or experiences that we had as children. These seeds that were planted long ago can affect the feeling of not belonging, of not being listened to or heard, a feeling of being afraid, inferior, angry, vulnerable or alone.  These seeds grow into big emotions when, as adults, we are faced with the very same experiences that planted those seeds in the first place (a spouse who isn't hearing your needs, an impatient co-worker who says something to make you feel inferior, etc).  Sensing this, our inner child starts to have a tantrum and often times there is no one there to soothe those strong feelings.

Enter the practice of mindfulness.  Thich Nhat Hanh says that mindfulness can act as a nurturing mother in times of powerful feelings.  He says that we can soothe the strong emotions we encounter by cradling them with mindfulness.  We can go home to ourselves and comfort the little child inside, listen to our child, and respond directly to him/her.

As a part of my practice, whenever I feel a strong reaction to something, I immediately bring my attention to it (instead of pushing it away or suppressing it) and I allow my attention to hold it, like Claire holds a fussy Vivienne.  I acknowledge the presence of anger, sadness, anxiety, remorse, judgement, etc. and let it know that I am there for it, holding it and not abandoning it until it feels soothed and attended to.  Once I do this, the intensity of the emotion begins to subside and I can act from a place of compassion and clarity instead of anger or defensiveness.  It's a very simple but powerful practice!

Practice this today and every day and watch your reactions, your suffering and your misperceptions be transformed.  Do this for yourself, your loved ones and the world.

Until next time...

“The most sophisticated people I know - inside they are all children. ” 

Taking Care of Anger
(from the Plum Village website:

"Thay often compares our anger to a small child, crying out to his mother. When the child cries the mother takes him gently in her arms and listens and observes carefully to find out what is wrong. The loving action of holding her child with her tenderness, already soothes the baby’s suffering. Likewise, we can take our anger in our loving arms and right away we will feel a relief. We don’t need to reject our anger. It is a part of us that needs our love and deep listening just as a baby does.

After the baby has calmed down, the mother can feel if the baby has a fever or needs a change of diaper. When we feel calm and cool, we too can look deeply at our anger and see clearly the conditions allowing our anger to rise.

When we feel angry it is best to refrain from saying or doing anything. We may like to withdraw our attention from the person or situation, which is watering the seed of anger in us. We should take this time to come back to ourselves. We can practice conscious breathing and outdoor walking meditation to calm and refresh our mind and body. After we feel calmer and more relaxed we can begin to look deeply at ourselves and at the person and situation causing anger to arise in us. Often, when we have a difficulty with a particular person, he or she may have a characteristic that reflects a weakness of our own which is difficult to accept. As we grow to love and accept ourselves this will naturally spread to those around us."

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