Apparently birds that survive cyclones fly right into the heart of the cyclone and the energy of it lifts them up above the turmoil.
My teacher at meditation class tonight was talking about our human tendency to get caught up in a cyclone of thought, of suffering and of wanting things to be something other than the way they are. That our minds want something to “chew on” and it is so seductive, so culturally reinforced, that we get sucked into the cyclone and lose our peace and equanimity.
She was speaking about the potential we all have within us to let go and rise above the cyclone and experience the freedom and creativity of an open and spacious mind. As a parent, and a mindful-mom-in-progress, I was immediately struck by the daily opportunity to do this with children – and how much this requires us to be able to let go of our agenda – and let it just be what it is.
I thought of the 9 year old cyclone I am living with right now and how easy it is to get sucked into the cyclone of wanting her to be behaving other than the way she is. And how that causes both of us suffering. And how appealing the idea of rising above it is. Appealing enough for me to acknowledge the hurt I inflict when I communicate that I think she should be different to the way she is – that she is not OK.
Don’t misunderstand me. As I wrote for Huffington Post some time ago, I really believe in the importance of communicating “you and I are ok…… it’s just your behaviour that isn’t”. But even so, this emotional roller coaster has been going on long enough that I think she gets the message that there is something about her that is unacceptable. That should be another way. What other conclusion could she reach?
Letting go of the expectation that she be anything other than she is – clearly communicating unconditional acceptance and love – letting her BE and letting the situation BE – that’s what rising about the cyclone looks like.
How do I do that when the cyclone is raging? I can’t always and that’s OK too. We don’t need to be perfect for our children to know we love them but we do need to develop the ability to rise above the cyclone more often. Mindfulness and Self Compassion are two of the best tools that help us do that.
1: Recognize that the cyclone is triggering reactions, stress and struggle in your body and mind. Name it to tame it, even a little.
2: Send kindness to yourself – empathy for what that feels like for you. This is hard. This emotional intensity. This storming. This cyclone.
3: Soften into this kindness. Stay with it a while. Don’t try to change anything or make anything go away. Just surround those feelings with kindness and understanding. Let it be what it is. Don’t run away with it or push it away. Just be gently curious and kind. Ask yourself what you need right now.
4: Scan your body, softening any obvious signs of tension. Inviting it to let go. Even a little. It’s natural for our bodies to tense against the storm.
5: Recall the tenderness you feel for your child, knowing that they are suffering right now. This is what distress and overwhelm looks like for your child. Don’t take it personally. They are still learning how to manage their big feelings. See if you can connect to a feeling of empathy and understanding for what is going on for them too. Experiment with letting go of the expectation that they be anything other than what they are right in this moment. Ask yourself – what do they need right now? Am I calm enough yet to be able to provide what my child and I both need right now?
6: Communicate understanding to your child, if you are ready. If you are not, spend a few more moments with that kindness, coming back into a relative state of equilibrium yourself. You are not able to help your child become more emotionally regulated until you are yourself. Giving your child words to describe what they are feeling tames their feelings and helps them start to become more regulated. Communicating that you “get them” even in this state of overwhelm gives them a safe container for their feelings and reminds them that you are the adult here and your relationship with them is not at risk. That you love them “no matter what”.
7: Listen. And only redirect their behaviour or clarify boundaries once they are calm enough to hear you.
Unless there are safety issues that need to be addressed first, this process is about both of you getting what you need to recognise the feelings that you are experiencing, restoring calm and maintaining caring connection.
Only when our thinking brains are back online can we do any of the teaching that sometimes goes along with these emotinally intense moments – and often seeing, communicating they are seen and then soothing the feelings is all that is needed. Trust that you will know what to do next.
(it takes less time than it appears, and once you become more practiced, you can move from one stage to the other quite seamlessly)
These parenting moments can be amongst the most challenging of our parenting journey – right through to their adulthood! I don’t give parenting advice – I resource parents with the skills and awareness they need to take care of their own needs and the needs of their children. If you would like more support with this process, please join us at Mindfulness 4 Mothers